Sophisticated dummy

Two teams of engineers at the University of Virginia are playing major roles in the creation of a new computer model of a crash test dummy.

Two teams of engineers with the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics are playing major roles in the creation of a new computer model of a crash test dummy for the Global Human Body Models Consortium (GHBMC).

The GHBMC is a consortium of nine automakers and two suppliers who decided to consolidate their individual research and development activities in human body modelling into a single global effort to advance crash safety technology.

Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda R&D, Hyundai Motor, Nissan, Peugeot-Citroën, Renault, Takata, Toyota and TRW Automotive are all members of the consortium, which created a company in April 2006 following three years of organising and planning.

The computational models of a human being developed at the University of Virginia will include lifelike detail of flesh, bones, ligaments, blood vessels and organs.

‘Already, cars and their safety systems are designed on computers,’ said Richard Kent, one of the University of Virginia’s team leaders on the project and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. ‘It’s logical that we would create a virtual crash test dummy that would allow us to test these safety systems before they are ever physically built.’

Kent and his six-member team are charged with creating a computer model of the human thorax and upper extremities, including the ribcage, muscles and ligaments, and the lungs and heart.

Jeff Crandall, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics, is leading another team in the development of a virtual pelvis and lower extremities, supported by the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India.

The Global Human Body Models Consortium recently awarded the two Virginia teams $3m (£2m) to complete their projects within the next few years.

Teams of researchers at other universities and institutes are creating models of other parts of the human body, including the head, neck and abdomen.

Wayne State University, Michigan researchers, for example, are creating models of the head and brain, while those at the University of Waterloo in Canada are modelling the neck. They are joined by researchers at the French National Institute for Transportation and Safety Research (INRETS), who are modelling the abdomen.

‘Eventually all these models will be joined together to create the most sophisticated and lifelike simulation of the entire human body ever assembled for safety testing,’ said Damien Subit, a University of Virginia research scientist working on the model of the thorax.

He said the virtual human will be subjected to nearly infinite virtual crash scenarios to determine in graphic detail what happens to organs, bone and tissue when subjected to forces and impacts from a range of angles at different velocities. Researchers will be able to see, in effect, how a neck breaks in a crash, how a lung is punctured by a broken rib, or a liver is bruised or a hip shattered.

‘We are creating models, based on the actual anatomic details of the human body, that will respond to stress and strain and impact in the same way the actual human body does, so we can see precisely how injuries occur,’ Kent said. ‘The ultimate result will be cars with far better safety systems, minimising the severity of injuries and the frequency of fatalities.’

The advantages of a virtual dummy, compared to the typical physical crash test dummy, are huge. Currently, a typical crash test costs about $5,000 to $100,000. A virtual crash will cost almost nothing – once the dummy is developed. And a regular physical dummy, with a life span of about 10 years, must be repaired after each crash. A virtual dummy will be, in a sense, immortal, and could be used repeatedly in a far wider range of crash scenarios.

Models of four different sized individuals – two male and two female – will be created initially. In future research, the GHBMC plans to expand the four models to represent other human body shapes, sizes and ages.  Eventually, the GHBMC plans to create an extended family of virtual humans – from children to senior adults. The virtual dummy will eventually be configured in variable sizes and weights, representing the true range of human body types.

Current physical dummies, on the other hand, are built in only three height and weight models, representing an approximation of the many sizes of humans.

‘This will be an adaptable, cost-saving system that will provide amazing insight to body injuries for improving auto safety,’ Kent said.

The virtual dummy could be useful in other ways as well, such as for the design of safer sporting goods and in medical schools for students studying trauma injuries.