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Avatar – Feedback from the Virtual World


I finally got around to watching Avatar on DVD, and accept that I am probably one of the last people on planet Earth to have done so! What a fantastic movie, the effects were amazing. It reminded me of an article I had read  about a programme created by the military in the USA to gain further insight to aid soldiers in battle.

Depending on which source you turn to, the word 'avatar' has many meanings. In Hinduism an 'avatar' is defined as an incarnation of an immortal being. In modern technology, the word is used to describe a computer user's representation of himself/herself .

The U.S. Department of Defence has taken the modern technological viewpoint to dizzying new heights by creating Santos, as part of the Virtual Soldier Research programme at the University of Iowa.  Santos has been created to find ways to ease the physical strain on soldiers. It’s designed with a complete bio-mechanical muscular system to provide feedback on speed, fatigue, strength and torque.


Santos is a highly realistic virtual worker who doesn't just simulate motion, but also records the actual physical strains of reaching, lifting and stretching. For example, in this particular area of his expertise, he is able to perform tasks and give feedback to determine whether over months and years these movements will cause back strain. In this way, by using the knowledge gathered by  Santos the US military can make the necessary adjustments needed to get the job done.

If that wasn’t incredible enough, Santos's development  has been taken a step further: he has moved from the virtual battlefield to the virtual assembly line. Santos is now in the testing phase at Ford,  used  as a computerized avatar that performs actions in the virtual world.  This has enabled Ford to improve quality, safety and ergonomics in its design and manufacture before mass production.

The feedback that the US Military and Ford are gaining from Santos, helps them analyse human limits with dynamic motion. This virtual soldier, with his capability in predictive dynamics, will aid in increasing efficiency as well as safety and quality.

The concept of Santos confirms that with the right kind of information and input, we can increase productivity and efficiency. A 360 degree feedback programme works on the same principle. A well executed 360 degree feedback, should prompt measurable changes in the behaviour of the receiver. Performed correctly, a 360 degree feedback review will create assurance around strengths, and indicate a clear pathway of essential areas for people to work on.

We are all aware that to be effective at anything, we need constructive feedback. The US Military, Ford and 79% of the Fortune 100 companies understand this too. In the case of the US Military,  Santos is used to work out the best way to equip soldiers for battle. In the work environment, 360-degree feedback is a powerful tool for creating awareness of an individual’s strengths and development areas, by measuring performance against a range of key criteria.

Wouldn't it be great to have our own personal Avatar to give us the answers on how to improve ourselves. Unfortunately, you're unlikely to find one on the shelves at your local supermarket. Thankfully we do have performance appraisals in the form of 360 degree feedback, an essential and effective tool for those who want to improve in life… any industry.

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