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Learning road safety from dummies

A new breed of nimble crash-test dummy with life-like movement is hitting the road to teach European scientists how car accidents affect the human body. Researchers hope the new prototype will provide insights that will enable them to increase the ‘passive safety’ of Europe’s cars and roads.

Source: TNO website

Crash test dummies have the thankless but crucial job of being strapped into vehicles and then rammed into objects at high speed. Although THOR can’t talk the talk, it can certainly walk the walk. The new prototype dummy can emulate the complex mechanics of the human body as the forces involved in a collision rip through it.

Available since the beginning of October, the new dummy was showcased at the European Vehicle Passive Safety Network’s Annual Conference in Paris on 6 November. THOR is the fruit of three years of meticulous research by the EU-backed Frontal Impact Dummy (FID) consortium.

Acts like no dummy

THOR’s designers are proud of the dummy’s human-like behaviour in crash situations. Speaking at the Paris conference, Michiel van Ratingen, FID coordinator at TNO, noted, “The most important achievement of the project is the introduction of an improved frontal impact crash-test dummy with realistic movements and injury-indicating measurements for future automotive crash testing.”

FID has been funded by the FP5 GROWTH Programme, as part of the Sustainable Mobility and Intermodality Key Action. TNO Automotive’s Crash Safety Centre (NL) leads the consortium. Other members include the Institut National de Recherche sur les Transports et Leur Securite (FR), Heidelberg University (DE), Bundesanstalt für Strassenwesen (DE) and UPM (ES).

Reducing the human cost

Frontal collisions are the most lethal form of road accident producing the highest number of deaths and injuries. They cost the EU economy billion of euros in economic losses each year, not to mention the human cost in terms of grief at the loss of loved ones.

Research into frontal collisions can help significantly reduce the carnage on Europe’s roads. However, Hybrid-III – the ageing dummy that THOR aims to replace – is not equipped to simulate and record accurately the impact of a frontal crash on the human body.

Driving test

The prototype THOR has been tested rigorously. It was last taken through its paces at the facilities of France’s Institut National de Recherche sur les Transports et Leur Securite. Sled tests at 30 km/h with seatbelt and no airbag and at 50 km/h with seatbelt and airbag were carried out first on human subjects, then on the Hybrid III and THOR dummies.

The tests showed THOR to be a more “biofidelic and comprehensive

injury assessment device than the Hybrid-III,” an FID newsletter explained, “but its durability and handling properties remained unsatisfactory.” The consortium concludes that “intended design upgrades should be focussed on improving the durability and handling of the dummy”.

Meet the family

In addition to frontal impact dummies, there are other types of dummies for measuring the effects of non-frontal impact collisions. The EC is currently supporting a number of such projects, including EuroSID and SIBER, both developing side-impact dummies. RID2 is aimed at developing a more advanced rear-impact dummy, while WHIPLASH is studying the effects of frontal, rear and oblique impacts on the neck. Finally, the CHILD project is measuring the effects of impact on children. For more information on these and other projects, see the EVPSN website (link below).

As THOR and the rest of the dummy family demonstrate, ‘passive safety’ research requires years of active commitment on the part of dedicated researchers in order to mitigate the damage caused by a crash.

Nevertheless, prevention is better than cure and the other arrow in the EU’s quill is to reduce the number of road accidents. A 2001 White Paper set the EU the ambitious goal of halving, by 2010, the number of fatalities on Europe’s roads. These measures include designing ‘intelligent’ environments that will lead to roads and cars actively interacting with another to prevent accidents from occurring.