Smarter dummies play key role in vehicle safety testing
It doesn't take a genius to figure out why collaboration accelerates the pursuit of safer vehicles. Even a dummy can help.
Engineers from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and other companies have been working together for years to develop advanced crash test dummies that can more accurately gauge vehicle safety.
Progress has been slow, but their efforts are close to producing smarter dummies.
“We fight with our competitors fiercely in the marketplace, but when it comes to crash dummies, there's a lot more cooperation than people realize,” said Jack Jensen, technical manager of GM's crash test lab.
Developing dummies is difficult because they must react to horrendous impacts in the same ways the human body would. But they must be durable enough to absorb scores or even hundreds of crashes.
Some of the dummies last more than a decade, which is longer than an average NFL player's career. They use digital sensors to record thousands of bits of information during every crash test, even though the typical crash impact lasts only about one-seventh of a second.
Imagine wrapping your laptop in rubber casing and slamming it into a wall hundreds of times a year. That's what it's like for a dummy.
Naturally, they're extremely expensive. GM, for example, has about 400 dummies worth about $45 million at a half-dozen crash-test safety labs throughout the world.
“The development of the dummy is a hard job,” said Jesse Buehler, principal engineer for vehicle performance development at the Toyota Technical Center south of Ann Arbor, Mich. “It's trying to take assemblies of steel and vinyl and mimic the response of muscle and bone.”
Here are four developments in anthropomorphic test-device technology that could soon lead to changes in crash-test procedures:
• WorldSID: This side-impact dummy is close to reaching the market after more than a decade of development. It has more than 200 electronic sensors that can translate digital readings into a summary of how crashes physically affect a human. That's about double the number of digital readings from today's side-impact dummies.
• THOR: The frontal-impact dummy, which was originally funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is being tested by several automakers. THOR is an acronym for Test Device for Human Occupant Restraint. It would represent significant improvements on the Hybrid III dummy, which was created in the 1970s by GM and is still widely used in test labs.
• BioRID: This rear-impact dummy was created by Chalmers University researcher Anna Carlsson in collaboration with automakers such as GM, which has developed tests to examine its effectiveness.
Carlsson said her device would improve automakers' ability to limit neck injuries among women, who are twice as likely as men to sustain whiplash during a crash.
• Software models: Researchers are constantly tweaking computerized human models to improve digital assessments of crash tests. For example, Toyota has developed a Total Human Model for Safety (THUMS) to improve digital analysis of crash tests. It's already being used.