Canadian military sizes up body scanning

Canadian Forces personnel have a new job requirement: stripping for the BoSS.

In this case, however, the BoSS is the Body Sizing System, a digital sizing system that measures the human body and recommends garment sizes.

Developed jointly by Toronto-based VisImage Systems Inc. and the Department of National Defence, the system captures two high-resolution images of the subject — one from the front, the other from the side, and calculates 37 different measurements. Using sizing rules specified by the clothing designers, the proprietary software recommends the correct size of clothing and equipment.

According to Judith Spanglett, section head, Canadian Forces’ operational protective equipment and clothing, in Hull, Que., the department wanted to have better sizing data. That would allow it to reduce inventory of the wrong sizes, she says, which means money saved not only on the stock itself but also on the warehousing of that stock.

“”So when we went to procurement we were buying the sizes that fit our forces, as opposed to doing a curve,”” she explains.

The system will tell the subject being measured if the size exists somewhere in the system, even if it isn’t available on the shelf of the base’s warehouse.

“”If they take a particular size in a combat shirt and pant and they go to the store and can’t find it on the shelf there, it doesn’t matter because they know it exists within the system and they can order it,”” says Spanglett.

She also expects it will eliminate a lot of unnecessary requests for custom clothing.

“”In some cases people are having special sizes made when we don’t believe they actually need it and they could be fitted with the sizes that are there,”” she says.

It will also help the military determine if the sizing profile of its members is changing.

“”If we’ve got a lot of people on the small and the large end that our sizing system doesn’t accommodate, then we should be looking at changing our sizing system so that will enable us to make sure we procure the items in the right size,”” she says.

One of the requirements for the system is that it had to be user-friendly, says Spanglett. As well, it had to be compact and economical to use.

“”Because it was going to be put into clothing stores at army bases, we didn’t want it to be expensive for installation or personnel,”” she says.

The system, which costs each base $50,000, has been running at the Trenton, Ont., base since last August. It is to be deployed in Esquimalt, B.C., this month, with plans to roll it out to all major bases across Canada over the next couple of years.

Shi Yin, who founded VisImage in 1999 after working as a research associate at the University of Toronto on the project, says the system was developed using neural networks and fuzzy logic, along with advanced digital imaging technology.

The two major challenges in developing the system were converting the images of the body into landmarks and body dimensions, and creating a system that could be easily operated by any user, says Yin, who first spoke to Technology in Government about the project four years ago.

But the rapidly improving digital camera technology, along with decreasing costs, have also aided the project’s development, he says.

“”Since we spoke four years ago we have changed three cameras due to advances in technology and we can use cameras that cost the same to get higher resolution and better quality images,”” says Yin.

When asked how accurate the system is, Yin says in tests of more than 1,000 people over the last five years, the system measures made by BoSS-21 are more consistent than measures made by different expert anthropometrists; BoSS-21 is more consistent than the person’s body is over the period of a week; and the variability of measures made by BoSS-21 are less than half the size of the acceptable manufacturing tolerances of most garments.

And while other countries are looking at adopting similar technology, Canada is ahead of the game, says Yin.

“”Last October I was with a Canadian delegation presenting this technology at a NATO conference in Eastern Europe,”” he says. “”Lots of other NATO countries have their own version, but ours is the most advanced. Most of them have developers to bring the system to them to measure; it’s not like piece of equipment delivered to them.

“”The philosophy of the Canadian government was to try to develop something simple, low-cost and easy to operate that can be handled by ordinary soldiers.””

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