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Size Matters
January 14, 2000
image: Levi Strauss

Have you ever owned a car with a driver’s seat you could never adjust to feel quite right? How about that dress that looked divine on the rack—and claimed to be your size—but looked like a flour sack when you tried it on? Or perhaps you’re one of the 20-25 percent of airline passengers who experience discomfort on that long flight in a packed jet?

Relief may be winging its way to you, courtesy of the United States Air Force, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), some innovative computer imaging systems, and a project named for a Roman emperor.

Whither The So-Called Average Size?

Our intrepid reporter gets covered with dots and enters the Whole Body Scanner. The computer creates a 3-D image of him.

Kathleen Robinette, project leader for the Civilian American European Surface Anthropometry Resource, or CAESAR, weighs in on the myth of the average size: "There is no average person; it doesn’t exist. . . . Everybody is a combination of different body parts, even twins."

Because a true average doesn’t exist, millions of dollars are wasted in the attempt to fit our unique bodies into a few standard sizes of car seats, clothing and computers stations—or in the case of fighter pilots, G-suits, helmets and gloves—says Robinette. The CAESAR project aims to recreate standards that are a bit more true to form.

Along with conventional measurement technologies, the project uses three-dimensional (3-D) surface anthropometry (the detailed measurement of the outer surface of human bodies). The Air Force’s computer-controlled 3-D scanner notes and stores hundreds of thousands of data points on the surface of the body. These data points are then used to create a three-dimensional picture of the subject’s form.

Whom Are The Measurements Based On?

The CAESAR project depends on some 9,000 volunteers who spend up to an hour being measured with tape measures, calipers and the Whole Body Scanner. The volunteers assume three positions during their visit—standing, sitting with forearms up, and sitting with forearms down—to provide a variety of measurement data.

The volunteers come from both genders, three age groups and three ethnic groups. This gives the researchers 18 categories of body sizes, which should result in a more accurate assessment of sizes and shapes.

Robinette’s team of researchers believes that their work in the United States, the Netherlands and Italy will "result in safer equipment which performs better," and which saves money. "We won’t waste material on sizes and shapes that don’t exist out there," she says. The stored data will be used to redesign everything from jeans and automobile seats to flight suits and computer workstations, and will be available for a fee to those who need to know what sizes to use to make their products fit our bodies.

Methods from the past were also used.
A consortium of military and civilian agencies are working on the CAESAR project, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. A partial list of the civilian partners includes the SAE (a consortium of industry partners representing 30 of the nation’s top automotive and aeroapsace firms), the Boeing Company, and Levi Strauss & Co.

"We began planning with a NATO working group which began in 1993," explains Robinette. "Data collection was [started] April 1998 in Los Angeles; the entire project should be completed by 2002."

What Is Anthropometry?

Anthropometry is the science of human body measurement. Before computerized scanning came into use, scientists used manual instruments to measure body size.

Because of the time-consuming methods used in the past, anthropometric surveys were few and far between. The women’s apparel industry conducted a survey in 1949, and a nutritional survey is performed every 10 years, according to Robinette.

CAESAR Partners:
Bertrand Faure
Boeing Corp
Case Corp
Caterpillar, Inc.
Daimler Chrysler
Dayton Hudson Corp.
Deere & Co.
Ford Motor Co.
The Gap
General Motors
Georgia Inst. of Technology
Herman Miller
Jantzen, Inc.
Johnson Controls, Inc.
Lear Corp.
Lee Co.
Levi Strauss & Co.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautical
Magna Interior Systems Engineering
Mitsubishi Motors Co.
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.
Public Technologies Multimedia, Inc.
Sara Lee Knit Products
Sears Manufacturing Co.
Transport Canada
Vanity Fair, Inc.

Anthropometric measurements determine:

  • clothing sizes
  • normal growth rates for children
  • car and airplane seat dimensions
  • a host of other sizes of everyday items, like eating utensils

The CAESAR anthropometric project could someday result in clothes that really fit, workstations that avoid repetitive motion injury, and car seats that you can actually adjust to your comfort. Perhaps the data will also lead to airline seating that doesn’t make us feel like sardines packed in a can.

Elsewhere on the Web

Anthropometry For Sculptors—Human Measurements

Anthrokids—Anthropometric Data of Children

Center for Human Modeling and Simulation

Marching Through the Visible Man and Woman

ErgoWeb—the Ergonomics Site

Cyberware Corporation

by STN2

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