Crash test dummies are a vital part of testing the safety of the
cars that we drive in every day. They are also time and labor intensive
to make. Of course, they can only show us so much about how much about
what will happen.
A new generation of dummies will be able to tell a lot more. An
international group of automakers and suppliers has formed a Global
Human Body Models Consortium to fund the best minds to build a better
Two teams of engineers with U.Va.'s Center for Biomechanics will
play major roles in the creation of this new "virtual" dummy, one that
will live entirely within computers, but will be more realistic than
any physical dummy ever subjected to a crash test.
Unlike the current dummies these will actually be a lot more like
real humans. These will be highly detailed computer dummies –
computational models of a full human being – including extreme lifelike
detail of the complexities and characteristics of flesh, bones,
ligaments, blood vessels and organs.
Not to mention that these dummies will save a lot of money and add
diversity to the testing program. Current physical dummies are built in
only three height and weight models, representing an approximation of
the many sizes of humans. The virtual dummy eventually will be
configured in variable sizes and weights, representing the true range
of human body types.
Another advantage of a virtual dummy, compared to the typical
physical crash test dummy is cost. Currently, a typical crash test
costs about $5,000 to $100,000. A virtual crash will cost nearly
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.
While this is a new development using computer simulations in safety is a long standing pratice.
"Already, cars and their safety systems are designed on computers,"
said Richard Kent, one of U.Va.'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
He added that 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.