Virtual crash dummy to make driving much safer

Automakers have been crashing test dummies to gain insight into how safety systems protect or fail to protect people during car accidents.

But these dummies made out of plastic and steel, not tissue and bone, have their limitations. Now a virtual dummy being developed by two engineering teams with University of Virginia (UVa) Centre for Biomechanics, will make driving much safer.

These virtual dummies, computational models of a human being, will be complete with lifelike detail of the complexities and characteristics of flesh, bones, ligaments, blood vessels and organs.

Researchers will be able to see, 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.

Besides a virtual dummy test will cost nothing, compared to the typical physical crash test dummy, which costs about $5,000 to $100,000.

"Already, cars and their safety systems are designed on computers," said Richard Kent, one of UVa'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 is charged with creating a highly detailed and realistic computer model of the human thorax and upper extremities, including the ribcage, muscles and ligaments, and the lungs and heart.

Jeff Crandall, UVa professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is leading another team in the development of a virtual pelvis and lower extremities, said a UVa release penned by Fariss Samarrai.

An international group of automakers and suppliers have formed a Global Human Body Models Consortium, which funded the two teams with $3 million to complete their projects within the next few years.

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

"Eventually all of 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 UVa 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.

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