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Feature

Karen LaBat

Karen LaBat is the director of the College of Design's Human Dimensioning Laboratory and a professor of apparel design.

A very expensive tape measure

Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel's body scanner creates 3D images

By Suzy Frisch

May 16, 2008

Used to be, when a researcher or industry professional needed a large amount of data about the shape of the human body, it would take at least an hour to measure one person by hand-and endless hours to retrieve data from enough subjects for a large-scale study. Then there was the issue of translating reams of two-dimensional data into use for a three-dimensional (3D) form. But ever since the Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel got its hands on a body scanner, it takes 11 seconds to get that same information from one person. The technology quickly captures thousands of data points and creates 3D images of the human body. Apparel experts can then use this information to develop more accurate sizing systems, try out patterns, and design clothing. "We talk about the scanner being a very expensive tape measure," said Karen LaBat, director of the college's Human Dimensioning Laboratory and a professor of apparel design. "But it's really changed the way we're collecting information and developing new ways to use it."

By saving time, taking away human error, and opening avenues for new ways to fabricate apparel, technology has vastly changed the way designers create the clothes and equipment we wear for work and play.

The scanner, which was initially funded by the National Science Foundation, opened doors for the University to conduct cutting-edge research and change the way apparel is designed. In one project, apparel professors teamed with physiologists and psychologists in the University's Laboratory for Health and Human Performance in Extreme Environments to develop underclothes for NASA astronauts. Called a liquid cooling ventilation garment, this wearable technology keeps astronauts cool in their bulky space suits. Researchers also have used the scanner to design clothing for women with osteoporosis, who often develop an altered posture. Additionally, they have applied information from 3D body scans to create more accurate clothing patterns and apparel for obese women, who have completely different body shapes than petite and average women. The Human Dimensioning Lab also has a motion capture system, another piece of technology that is in the early phases of making a significant impact on the design of work apparel. Researchers from five universities, including the University of Minnesota, are creating better protective clothing for pesticide applicators, whose protective garments tend to be large and constraining. The only partner with a motion capture system, the University is using the equipment to film people and their movements. Eventually researchers will apply the data to design and test new products that improve workers' ability to stretch, bend, and move on the job. By saving time, taking away human error, and opening avenues for new ways to fabricate apparel, technology has vastly changed the way designers create the clothes and equipment we wear for work and play. Republished from Emerging, spring 2008, a publication of the College of Design.