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Manikin on a Mission: Keep Cool, Save Fuel

April 1, 2008

Photo of a manikin dressed in a National Renewable Energy Laboratory T-shirt sits on a chair next to a glass of water.

NREL's Advanced Automotive Manikin, affectionately known as ADAM, has the laboratory's mission at heart.

He's only one manikin, but he's a manikin with NREL's mission at heart. ADAM, as he is affectionately called, is an Advanced Automotive Manikin who daily helps researchers find new ways to make cars more comfortable, while saving significant amounts of fuel. He does it by sweating. Usually in a car.

ADAM is a one-of-a-kind manikin – a complex web of sensors and wires running through a torso that mimics the physical reactions of humans. His "brain" is actually a sophisticated computer system that recreates the physical responses a human would have under real life conditions and collects data about how a person would "feel" in those same conditions.

Manikin Breathes and Sweats, Runs Hot and Cold

Mostly, researchers recreate the human experience of driving in a car under a variety of weather conditions – hot, cold or somewhere in between. The goal is to figure out how to build a car that uses less energy to heat or cool the humans who drive them. That in turn saves fuel.

ADAM is as life-like as technically feasible. His breath rate reflects the driving situations and environmental conditions he encounters. His gray-colored skin heats up and actually sweats. His human-mimicking reactions are relayed back in precise scientific detail to researchers, while ADAM sits in his mock vehicle subjected to hot Arizona afternoon conditions.

Saving Fuel is the Goal

Finding ways to air condition our cars in a more fuel-efficient way is a lot more important than might first be imagined. That's because 7 billion gallons of gasoline is consumed each year in the United States just to run the air conditioners in vehicles. The fuel for car air conditioning costs some $13 billion annually and it takes nearly 10% of our nation's imported oil to produce this much gasoline. There are considerable environmental impacts from burning all that gasoline as well.

But what if we could cool our cars more efficiently and less expensively using less fuel without sacrificing comfort?

Researchers at NREL's Ancillary Loads Reduction Laboratory are confronting a central issue that may lead to innovative answers in the dilemma of cool vs. fuel. A car's air conditioner today cools not just the driver and passengers, but the entire interior of the car. And it's designed to do so for the most extreme conditions – such as a car that has baked all day in the hot desert sun.

More than One Path to Comfort

ADAM allows scientists to examine systems that could make the occupants just as comfortable – say, by directing cool air through seats or only around those occupied areas of the vehicle – and use a lot less energy in the process.

Performing tests of such systems in a real world environment with different vehicles, in different regions, with individual human subjects, would be difficult and costly. Moreover, human experience is subjective. What one person says about a certain situation can differ greatly from the next person's experience.

ADAM solves these problems by providing a dependable test platform that replicates real-world conditions in a controlled, scientifically objective way.

Just an Average "Guy"

ADAM is just the physical, sensing component of an even more complex, multi-part research tool. In addition to ADAM the manikin, the system also employs a physiological response model and a thermal comfort model – computerized modeling systems that allow researchers to quantify, record and analyze what ADAM is "feeling."

The entire system represents the "average" American person, or more precisely in research parlance, the dimensions of a "50th percentile" American person. He is five feet nine inches tall (175 cm) and weighs about 136 pounds (61 kg). He is flexible at the waist and has adjustable pre-tensioned joints at the knees, feet, wrists, elbows and shoulders that allow him to pose in various positions like sitting behind the steering wheel of a car.

ADAM's skin is made of laminated carbon fiber, making him light and strong. The skin supports his frame and houses internal components – energy storage in the thighs and torso and communication modules that allow him to remotely communicate with the computers operating physiological model.

As Real as a Manikin Can Be

The manikin is so realistic that a water storage system in his body sends "sweat" through pores in his skin, and his "lungs" simulate actual breathing patterns, including the exhalation of warm humid air. The surface layer of the manikin is comprised of 126 segmented sections, each of which responds to conditions individually as a human body would.

The computerized models are based on empirical work conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, in which human subjects were tested in varying thermal conditions to determine their perceptions of localized and overall body comfort.

Beyond his work in helping create new vehicle technologies, ADAM's career may in the future lead him to jobs donning hazardous material suits for first-responders, space suits or any system designed to keep people comfortable, no matter how extreme outside conditions may become. For now, ADAM is hard at work helping the NREL team improve the vehicles of tomorrow.

For more information, visit these NREL Web pages: