Posted: January 04, 2012
By Carrie Benseler
In a crash simulation lab just steps away from The Ohio State University Medical Center, Associate Professor John Bolte and 14 engineering students are examining ways to improve the accuracy of automotive crash test dummies.
Funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the team’s research is highly interdisciplinary, joining engineering and medicine in the field of biomechanics. Their discoveries, and the subsequent improvements in crash testing results, can be used by scientists and engineers in the automotive industry to design safer vehicles.
“The amount of impact a crash test dummy can withstand is not a completely accurate predictor of how much impact the human body can withstand,” says Bolte, who holds faculty appointments in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the College of Medicine and is director of the Injury Biomechanics Research Laboratory.
For this reason, Bolte and his students work to make crash test dummies more realistic by testing the impact of vehicle collisions on cadavers donated to the university for research. (Learn more at biomed.osu.edu/ame/11525.cfm.) Bolte estimates that 500-600 human lives might be saved by every set of experiments that uses a body donated through the program.
“We don’t put cadavers in cars and run them into walls. We go about it more scientifically than that,” Bolte says, explaining that very controlled impacts are made to specific body regions. “For example, we have done a thorax study, a liver study and others. We’re very targeted with our approach.”
As a result of one of the team’s projects, manufacturers are beginning to redesign the shoulders and thoraces of dummies used for testing in side-impact crashes.
“The thorax of the side-impact dummies is potentially underestimating injury during lateral impacts because the occupant does not interact with the door in a purely lateral manner,” Bolte says. “Our data reveals that the occupants usually load at various oblique angles and that the thorax responds differently to lateral versus oblique loads. The crash test dummies do not demonstrate this same behavior, so they are probably not being as accurate in predicting injury as they should be.”
Bolte explains that the average crash test dummy is based on the biophysical profile of a 40-year-old male who is in the 50th percentile in terms of height and weight.
Bolte and his team members take the data from their studies and use mathematical formulas to predict how different-aged men, women and children would respond to the same impact. They use their results to recommend improvements to manufacturers of crash test dummies.
“The ultimate goal of our research is to reduce the severity and number of injuries caused by vehicle collisions,” says Bolte. “The outcomes from crash test research influence vehicle star safety ratings. If we can help improve the accuracy of vehicle star safety ratings, we can help consumers choose safer cars and, ultimately, make the roads safer.”