In­no­va­tion: A smarter crash-test dummy called Thor

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - ——Jeff Plungis

Form and func­tion

The Test De­vice for Hu­man Oc­cu­pant Re­straint, or Thor, is a crash-test dummy packed with sen­sors that be­haves more like the hu­man body than cur­rent mod­els. It’s meant to help de­velop bet­ter de­signs and safety fea­tures for cars.

In­no­va­tors

The five-per­son Hu­man In­jury Re­search Divi­sion at the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton

Next Steps

NHTSA says it plans to use Thor as part of its pub­lic, na­tion­wide crash-test anal­y­sis be­gin­ning in 2019. Once that hap­pens, auto com­pa­nies will also have to make their ve­hi­cles markedly safer, says War­ren Hardy, head of Vir­ginia Tech’s Cen­ter for In­jury Biome­chan­ics. “We’re go­ing to be able to de­sign things to pre­vent a wider range of in­juries and keep peo­ple in­tact,” he says, “not just keep them alive.”

Sen­sors Thor car­ries 57 sen­sors an­a­lyz­ing 140 vari­ables like chest com­pres­sion, ster­num ac­cel­er­a­tion, and skull shift­ing. The old dum­mies typ­i­cally mea­sured about 20 such fac­tors.

Move­ment Thor’s neck dis­tin­guishes be­tween forces trans­ferred through its “bones” vs. its “mus­cles,” and it bends, twists, and ex­pands like a hu­man’s, help­ing pre­dict se­ri­ous brain in­juries. The knees, thighs, and hips carry pro­por­tion­ate weight.

Fund­ing Each Thor dummy costs $400,000 to build, and NHTSA says it’s spent mil­lions of re­search dol­lars to de­velop them. The agency’s an­nual bud­get is about $1 bil­lion.

Ori­gin De­vel­op­ment of the Thor dummy be­gan in earnest in late 2009. De­sign com­pany Hu­ma­net­ics In­no­va­tive So­lu­tions won the con­tract to build it in 2011.

Anal­y­sis Thor’s bevy of sen­sors and re­ac­tions will make crash tests more rig­or­ous than those per­formed with cur­rent dum­mies, which date to the 1980s, NHTSA says.

Mar­ket Once the dummy be­comes part of govern­ment test­ing, hun­dreds will be sold to auto com­pa­nies, re­searchers, and reg­u­la­tors.

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