The Center for Computer Aided Design Provides Advanced Engineering Training

At the University of Iowa, the Center for Computer Aided Design (CCAD) is at the cutting edge of applied computer aided design (CAD). It is an institution unlike any other because it is completely devoted to CAD study. Many advances in CAD technology have originated from the CCAD.

Among its many distinctions, the CCAD is home to the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS). This dome-shaped simulator houses a virtual-reality driving environment that replicates actual driving scenarios, promoting the study of traffic safety. Furthermore, the NADS moves at various speeds and directions to closely reproduce the experience of driving. It also contains an advanced audio system that mimics driving sounds and coordinates with the visual output.

The purpose of the NADS is to study ''human factors issues.'' These issues relate to the risks of human behavior on driving, such as alcohol use and fatigue. Thanks to the NADS, subjects are completely safe during these trials. Therefore, scientists can test human beings in a way that was completely inconceivable before the NADS, due to the ethical issues of putting people in actual driving environments.

During projects, a human test subject enters the simulator where he encounters an extremely lifelike driving environment. These subjects often differ greatly in age and background, so researchers can glean the effects of variables on the study. In most projects, the subject ''drives'' while performing an additional activity that is the behavioral variable of the study. For instance, he may ''drive'' and eat at the same time, which allows researchers to document how much his eating distracts him from driving. Researchers can then treat these results as how drivers would normally act in actual driving situations, since the NADS so accurately reproduces a driving environment. Therefore, the great advantage of NADS is that the subject is completely safe but still reacts authentically to his environment.

The simulator has more recently implemented studies sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (HTSA). The HTSA has especially commissioned studies investigating the effects of using wireless phones while driving. Without the NADS, agencies such as the HTSA would have no valuable options for testing cellular phone use on driving. It is no exaggeration to say that the NADS has saved lives, because lawmakers refer to its studies when creating driving laws. All told, the NADS is just one example of how the CCAD has changed American lives for the better.

The NADS comprises merely one department of the CCAD. Another completely different department is the Musculoskeletal Imaging, Modeling, and Experimentation Program (MIMX). As its title reveals, the MIMX models human anatomy through CAD software. In particular, MIMX develops patient-specific modeling tools that permit surgeons to treat their patients more accurately. In fact, one project currently under way at the MIMX is the FE Mesh Development & Validation, which uses CAD to model patient-specific joint contacts. Other projects include surgical simulations, which digitally break down surgeries to make them more understandable to both medical staff and patients.

Another dynamic project at the CCAD is the Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) project. This unique project combines CAD and video-game technology to study human physiological movement. In particular, the project utilizes an extremely humanlike avatar to digitally replicate human movements. This simulation tool enables researchers to gain insight into the complex physiological workings behind even the simplest human movements. In fact, the avatar has its own ''skeleton'' and organs so as to heighten its human realism.

The VSR project is actually funded by the U.S. Army. This sponsorship illustrates the many valuable applications of CAD to the real world. The Army benefits from the VSR because the project uses fairly inexpensive digital modeling to demonstrate a soldier's interaction with the outside world. That is, the VSR uses CAD instead of building costlier prototypes such as weapons. The VSR project is also considerably safer than material prototypes because it is completely contained in computers. Besides an army defense project, the VSR doubly acts as a biotechnological project useful for healthcare, since the avatar so closely mimics human movements.

Each project at the CCAD involves the work of undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors. There are also many technical workers who work directly with the software. These students are generally engineering majors who have areas of concentration in statistical modeling, biotechnology, virtual reality, and cognitive engineering. All students take advantage of the CCAD's state-of-the-art facilities. The newest facility at the CCAD is a ground-breaking virtual reality lab, which contains six walls of virtual reality technology.

Students who work at the CCAD are already well-versed with CAD engineering software because it is required for all of the projects. A typical CAD job description at the CCAD requires students with project-specific backgrounds, such as a background in automobile mechanics for working on the NADS project. Moreover, CCAD employment requires strong computer-programming skills, especially with C or C++ languages. Other requirements may include excellent academic records, recommendations from former professors, and previous internship experience.

CCAD jobs primarily involve the applied sciences. In other words, these jobs are more engineering jobs than they are design jobs. Moreover, the mission of the CCAD centers on promulgating new knowledge rather than directly utilizing the knowledge for commercial activities. Nonetheless, the healthcare and automobile industries have greatly benefited from the CCAD's findings. Because of the CCAD, these industries have installed the latest CAD technology and achieved higher performance. In return, many commercial and government industries have funded the CCAD's future operations, allowing it to remain at the forefront of CAD technology.

Like commercial jobs in CAD, each CCAD job demands strong mathematical knowledge and fluency in various computer platforms. Most students employed by the CCAD are studying at or have graduated from the University of Iowa's College of Engineering. Therefore, most have already gained advanced proficiency in CAD.

Students who work at the CCAD also have many opportunities to publish their research. They often write project reports and take minutes at conference proceedings. They also write for national and international journals. Lastly, they often base their academic theses and dissertations on their research at the CCAD, which helps them narrow down their professional specialties.
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