There’s a nice but too short article over on Wired titled “Cashing In on Virtual Humans” (Link). There’s not much in the way of “cash” discussed actually. A more accurate title might have been “The Trials and Tribulations of Virtual Humans” since the article is mostly about using digital humans for testing and evaluation purposes.
The example they cite for instructing a digital “Santos” (the offspring of the Virtual Soldier Research Program) to change out a truck’s oil filter in order to evaluate that maintenance activity is interesting; how easy or hard it is to perform the task, what problems are encountered on the “human” side and what difficulties are the result of poor design. Great information for the designers among us. I suspect this sort of thing isn’t yet incorporated into commercially-available PLM software, but I’d venture within the next five years or so factory managers will be using similar avatars to evaluate non-robotic assembly lines at this level of detail.
Now just wait til Santos decides to put his own blueprint in the manufacturing system. Personally, I’m thinking the first “birth” will be a cross between Gibson’s idea and the last fused version of Cronenberg’s “The Fly“.