Virtual Crash Test Dummys Keep Car Safe for Smarter Riders
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 dummy.
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 physically built."
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.