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The virtual route to safer cars

Crash-test dummies and physical impact tests can only be used to analyse a limited range of accident types and are extremely expensive to run. As two EU-backed projects are demonstrating, computer simulations will one day offer a far more versatile and cost-effective alternative.


New vehicles take years of careful design and testing for safety and efficiency before they are deemed roadworthy. Tens of millions of euros are invested in prototypes long before a new model makes it off the production line and into the showroom. However, as safety standards become tougher, reflecting growing customer concern at the high road fatality rate, the limitations of traditional physical testing are being brought to the fore.

“Current regulatory and consumer tests for cars are based on a small number of precisely defined test conditions using a mechanical representation of an average male… seated in an average driving position,” explains Jack van Hoof of VITES, an EU-backed project investigating the ‘virtual’ testing of vehicles.

What happens then if the passenger is not an average male who is not seated in an average position? “Occupants may now be at greater risk in other, non-tested conditions, including lower severity crashes,” he says.

Computer crashes can save lives

The limitations of traditional testing can be overcome with virtual computer simulations, believe partners in the VITES consortium led by TNO Automotive (NL). “Theoretically, a wide range of scenarios could be considered by crash tests with a variety of dummy sizes, but costs would rise proportionally,” van Hoof notes. “Virtual testing has great potential to extend the range of protection to real life crash conditions, but this potential has not yet been explored sufficiently.”

Computer modelling is already an efficient vehicle design tool that has slashed the costs of producing prototypes and reduces the lead-time to market. VITES intends to extend this success to safety testing. Armed with nearly €2 million in EU funding from the FP5 GROWTH Programme, the consortium has been exploring this potential for nearly three years.

Rating models

VITES is organised around three work packages. Among its major successes to date has been the creation of a generic tool to evaluate the quality of computer simulations. ADVISER automatically correlates numerical and experimental data and provides a corresponding quality rating for the digital model.

The ADVISER software was developed in close collaboration with another EU-funded project called ADVANCE. Whereas VITES aims to develop a framework of procedures and guidelines for virtual testing, ADVANCE is working on evaluating and enhancing computer simulation techniques, emulating the behaviour of passengers, vehicle structures and restraint systems.

Sourcing the scatter

Virtual passengers

VITES is also in the process of creating a database that uses stochastic modelling techniques to shed light on the sources of scatter in regulated crash tests. This will help in predicting the random responses of the various system components and will measure the effects of scatter on the injury criteria measured using crash-test dummies.

Next, VITES intends use its new software to carry out an extensive analysis of models used in crash safety analysis. This will be the start of a process aimed at cataloguing the current state-of-the-art in simulated crash testing and highlighting areas for future improvement.

All of the work described above will be supported under FP6 as part of the APROSYS Integrated Project on Advanced Protection Systems, set for launch in April 2004.