DETROIT -- It doesn't take a genius to figure out why collaboration
accelerates the pursuit of safer vehicles, but a dummy can help.
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.
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.
new 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 them 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
1/7th 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. "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:
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
today's side-impact dummies can record. Automakers and governments in
the U.S., Europe and Japan have contributed to WorldSID's development.
The dummy could cost much more than today's dummies, possibly as much as
$400,000 a copy, Jensen said.
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 today.
THOR dummy "appears to be an improvement to better assess injury
potential to rear-seat occupants wherein frontal impact air bags do not
exist," according to a 2011 study by Medical College of Milwaukee
The device would particularly improve the collection of information on neck and shoulder injuries.
important to have a dummy that acts like a human so that the restraints
that you develop have a benefit for the human," Buehler said.
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. Volkswagen, Chrysler, Ford
and others have also contributed to its development.
said her device would improve automakers' ability to limit neck injuries
among women, who are twice as likely to sustain whiplash during a crash
"To further reduce the whiplash-injury risk, it is
important that future whiplash-protection systems are developed and
evaluated with consideration of the female properties," the Gothenburg,
Sweden, researcher said in an email.
Researchers are constantly tweaking computerized human models to improve
digital assessments of crash test safety. For example, Toyota
scientists have developed a Total Human Model for Safety (THUMS) to
improve digital analysis of crash tests. It's already being used.
The federal government has also funded development of digital dummies.
Despite new developments in crash-test dummies, several challenges remain. They include:
-- Getting the required regulatory approvals to start using them could take time.
"There is a long process before new technologies become implemented in regulations or used by the ... industry," Carlsson said.
-- Ensuring that today's dummies accurately reflect the average weight of Americans, who have gotten heavier in recent decades.
-- Navigating the complex network of auto safety regulations throughout the world.
very important that the world governments harmonize on crash-test
regulations so we can run standardized tests on vehicles in multiple
markets," GM's Jensen said. "It allows for more efficient design of
vehicles and in the long run, it allows for better design of vehicles."
Nathan Bomey, Detroit Free Press