University of Iowa Institute of Technology receives grant from Epic Games

University of Iowa Institute of Technology received $ 100,000 grant from video game publisher Epic Games to study UI virtual human Santos with Epic’s Unreal engine at the beginning of the month.


The University of Iowa’s virtual human interface is being explored to potentially make video games more realistic.

Researchers at the UI’s Technology Institute have received an Epic MegaGrant of $ 100,000 from video game developer Epic Games to study the combination of the UI’s virtual human interface with Epic’s Unreal Engine game.

Santos – the university’s virtual human created in 2004 – and her female counterpart Sophia, are digital human models that test human abilities in computer-aided design environments of objects, vehicles and scenes.

Founded in 1991, Epic Games is one of the market’s largest video game companies, responsible for titles such as Fortnite and Armament of war, as well as its digital distribution platform Epic Games Store.

In March 2019, Epic Games launched its Epic MegaGrants campaign, committing $ 100 million to support game developers, business professionals, media and entertainment creators, students, educators and developers of tools that study Epic’s Unreal engine.

Unreal Engine is Epic’s 3D development toolset for video games and other real-time media.

Karim Abdel-Malek, UI professor and director of Virtual Soldier Research, said researchers are still far from fully replicating human life with the virtual human, Santos.

“We are only scratching the surface,” he said. “He’s able to understand strength and fatigue and tell you if he’s going to get hurt or not, but he’s cognitive missing a lot. The intelligence aspect is quite immature, and we want to work on that.

Rajan Bhatt, associate research engineer in the Virtual Soldier Research Program, said Santos has evolved in its nearly twenty years of existence.

“At first he could only do a few moves, now he can let you know what he can and can’t do,” he said. “Physically and physiologically he’s progressed, but on the intelligence scale he’s probably still a two-year-old, where we still have to tell him exactly what action to take and how. he has to do it individually. things to accomplish a task.

The program had previously partnered with the U.S. military and automaker Ford to predict long-term ergonomics and safety issues on assembly lines.

Bhatt said the partnership will help Epic Games create a more convenient gaming experience for users.

“They benefit from all the development that we have done over the past 20 years,” he said. “Santos can walk, run, jump but also he can get tired and will get tired over time, so he can’t do the same thing at the same speed forever. This integration will help make the games much more realistic.

Marco Tena Salais, UI alumnus and application developer at the Technology Institute, said the grant would benefit researchers because of the accessibility of the Unreal Engine, as well as the spread of the Santos interface. to the general public.

“The way that would help research is that Unreal is a very easy to download resource for everyone, so it’s all about accessibility,” he said. “If we can make Santos a plugin for Unreal, then anyone who downloads unreal can download Santos and do their own research.”

Tena Salais said any institution that wants to simulate human exercise could benefit from working with Santos.

“For athletes, one of the hardest things for athletes to do is find the best possible position for them to move the body,” he said. “A good example is someone throwing a ball, it might be easier for them to throw it a little higher than a little lower, and it might not be something they know until ‘to see the actual numbers after running a few simulations using Santos.

Bhatt said the next step in partnering with Epic Games is to complete the tasks initially proposed and move on to the next phase of the five-year project.

“The goal is to continue working with Epic for five years and then to go even further,” Bhatt said.

Abdel-Malek said his dream for the project was that in the future, when a person tapped into a video game, it would be powered by Santos.

“It would be a huge achievement for Iowa to have the recognition that we’ve done a lot of work here, and that it’s being used by great companies like this,” he said. “We are happy that someone like Epic Games can integrate our technology into their games.”


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