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Seeking more crash insight

Dec. 8, 2011

We are confident our research advancements will help reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries in automobile crashes – and on the football field.” --Dr. Stefan Duma, principal investigator, Virginia Tech, commenting on crash studies being conducted with the help of the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, MI

It’s not every day you hear about research projects designed to glean more insight about the trauma to the human body dealt by vehicle crashes and football tackles simultaneously. Then again, when you enter facilities like the Toyota Technical Center (TTC) in Ann Arbor, MI, you aren’t in Kansas anymore – literally and figuratively.

Toyota is opening up its TTC more frequently these days to a variety of universities via the automaker’s Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC); an initiative launched by Toyota this past January with an initial investment of $50 million to pursue automotive safety research through a collaborative model designed to share Toyota's resources with a variety of institutions.

The company recently green lighted four new research projects via its CRSC effort, as well as forged several new research partnerships with different universities, all aimed at trying to make further advances in vehicle safety technologies, as well as improve how crash testing is conducted in the first place.

These new partnerships, with Virginia Tech (my alma mater – no bias here … really!), George Washington University, the University of Iowa and the University of Virginia (the infamous 'Wahoos' ... boo, hiss!), are focused on the continued development of what’s termed “advanced crash modeling technologies” to better protect vulnerable populations, particularly senior citizens.

Two of these new joint projects focus on crash modeling research, including the creation of a detailed computer model of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) “THOR-NT” crash test dummy along with one to help confirm the “bio-fidelity” and injury prediction capability of Toyota's in-house Total Human Model for Safety (or "THUMS") used in its crash scenarios.

These crash modeling technologies help researchers analyze millions of data points to better understand the mechanisms that cause injuries in car crashes, which helps inform the development of new safety technologies for airbags, seatbelt systems and vehicle body structures, noted Chuck Gulash, TTC’s senior executive engineer and CSRC director.

Another project, conducted with the University of Iowa, will examine the affects of “pre-drive” behavior, such as where people place their feet prior to beginning the drive to determine the influence on driver-vehicle interactions.

The final project is based in part on research begun in Japan, which found a high rate of abdominal injuries for older drivers involved in vehicle crashes. Thus the CSRC and Virginia Tech are going to study the relationship between such injuries and the age of the drive, which could lead to improved safety restraints.

That’s critical given predictions that the percentage of the U.S. population over the age of 65 will almost double by 2040, noted Gulash.

He added that since Toyota launched the CSRC effort 11 months ago, it’s already initiated 17 research projects with 12 institutions – and Toyota noted that it intends to publish as much of this research as possible to make it available to federal agencies, the industry and academia.

One of those is linking vehicle crash research with studies of potential brain trauma occurring in football players. Toyota worked with Virginia Tech and the Wake Forest School of Medicine on a project whereby accelerometers were attached to the helmets of football players, allowing for the creation of the first safety ratings system for football helmets.

This data is also going to be used by Toyota to enhance its “THUMS” virtual human model, hopefully contributing to the development of new vehicle safety technologies to reduce the occurrence and severity of head collisions, the automaker said.

You certainly can't argue with collaboration that may help save lives and prevent injuries both on the highway and on the football field.

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