His name is Manny. He's 5 feet 11 inches tall and looks to weigh about 165 pounds. He's not the best-looking fellow - his skin is a rubbery charcoal gray. And he's pretty spineless, relying on a mechanical arm to hold him up.
But the folks at Dugway Proving Ground think he's just fine.Manny is a robotic mannequin that will be used to test the protective suits soldiers wear to survive deadly chemical attacks. Dugway does the developmental testing of protective clothing for all branches of the military service.
Manny is a boon to the scientists who do the testing, because he'll allow them to test the clothes' ability to withstand toxic agents under much more realistic conditions than have been possible before.
In the past, researchers have had to choose between testing clothing on static mannequins, using actual toxic agents, or on humans, using harmless chemical simulants.
"But they're not the same. The answers from these tests are not the same that you get from toxic agents," said Lothar Salomon, Dugway's scientific director.
Now they'll be able to use the toxic agents on suits worn by a mannequin that - thanks to the magic of hydraulics and computers - can walk, crawl, bend, breathe and sweat in a hermetically sealed environment. Manny even comes with heaters to simulate changes in his body temperature. With him, the testers can get a much better idea of how a protective suit will perform under battlefield conditions.
And when multiple vendors submit suits for consideration, Manny will allow scientists to give each suit exactly the same test, with the same series of motions and stresses, something that has been difficult to achieve in the past, said Charles E. DeWitt, chief of instrumentation operations for Dugway's Materiel Test Directorate.
Manny could also be used to test how suits protect against biological agents, but there are no plans for that until real-time biological detectors are developed, said Salomon, who first conceived of the lifelike mannequin about four years ago.
The chemical detector developed for Manny can instantly detect the penetration of as little as one-billionth of an ounce of a dangerous chemical, but similar biological detectors are not available, the scientific director said.
DeWitt said Manny himself will be tested over the next several months before he begins to be used to test clothes. He arrived Nov. 7 from Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories in Richland, Wash., where he was built. The Battelle people had previously developed robots to work in radioactive environments at the Department of Energy's Hanford nuclear reservation.
By the time Manny goes to work doing what he was designed to do, he will have cost about $2.8 million. Although that seems like a lot of money to the people at Dugway, it's considerably less than what others have spent on their movable mannequins, including those built by the Disney people at Disney World and Disneyland, said Salomon.
The Battelle folks borrowed ideas from the Disney robots and others in making Manny. They encountered challenges in each aspect of creating the mannequin, from computer programming to controls and materials. "But the biggest challenge was in integration, making it all fit and run as a single machine," said David W. Bennett, technical leader of robotics and remote systems for Battelle.
Salomon and Bennett said they hope Manny will have many applications outside of just testing chemical or biological warfare suits. They foresee him or others like him being used to test firefighting suits, NASA space outfits, hazardous waste-handling clothing, even sporting gear. Manufacturers may want to build their own versions of Manny or contract with Dugway to use its robot.
"That is usually one of our objectives when we have new developments is to look for technology transfer," said Salomon. "After all, these instruments are built with taxpayers' money."
Bennett said Battelle would like to extend the robot's capabilities to where it could test clothing for comfort as well as impermeability. Just think what such a machine could do for the disposable-diaper business, he said.