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Innovation brings new road safety measures to market

A chest protection device that was developed following European research into improving ‘passive’ safety for road users is now available on the market.

It is often called the “the European paradox”: how to translate scientific advances into marketable innovations? The EU-funded project Aprosys, which looked into ways to improve road safety, demonstrates just some of the ways that the results of research can be developed into useful and commercial products.

Road is the least safe mode of transport in Europe. In the EU in 2008 there were 39 000 deaths and 1 600 000 injuries due to accidents on roads.  According to the European Road Safety Charter, one in three of us will be injured in a traffic accident during our lives – they are the most common causes of hospitalisation for people under 55.

Aprosys, funded through the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme, was an initiative to find ways of improving ‘passive’ safety for road users. This means through measures such as airbags, seatbelts and helmets, which can avoid or reduce injury in case of accident, rather than ‘active’ measures which are designed to try to avoid accidents altogether.

The project, which ran from April 2004 to March 2009, produced many interesting results – one of which is already commercially available as the ‘Thorax Pro’ from the Italian company Dainese, one of the project partners.

New motorcycle protection on the market

This chest and spine protector for motorcyclists arose from the project’s analysis of accidents and injuries. As the project coordinator, Margriet van Schijndel of TNO in the Netherlands explains, “the main injuries for motorcyclists are in the head, neck and chest. Well, the head is protected by motorcycle helmets but there was very little in the way of chest protection available.”

Aprosys carried out a series of simulation studies in order to understand how chest injuries occur – and then prototyped designs to find out the freedom of movement needed for protection to be wearable when riding a motorcycle.  A second phase of prototyping then focused on materials and impact tests using a crash dummy. At the end of the project, Dainese took the proof of concept version forward into production and patented the design.

Sometimes, however, the route to market is not so straight-forward.

Crash test dummies

Currently, different countries use different dummies for vehicle testing, leading to different crash standards, especially for side impacts. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has therefore been developing global standards for side-impact crash dummies (WorldSID) since 1997. By providing car manufacturers and researchers with better simulations this should result in safer vehicle designs.

“Within Aprosys, we developed the so-called WorldSID 5th,” explains van Schijndel, “a standard dummy representing small, female passengers that can be used worldwide.”

A male dummy, the WorldSID 50th, was already going through the standardisation process with the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) before Aprosys started its work.

“The harmonisation process of the two dummies is now being done in parallel,” says van Schijndel, “which significantly speeds up things for our dummy,” and the team expects the dummy to go through legislative tests by the end of 2014.

Whether through commercial partners, patents, standardisation processes or product development work, we should see WorldSID and Thorax Pro, products of European innovation, making road travel safer in the years ahead.

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