Duane CroninDuane Cronin is building a better crash test dummy — one that’s a little more forthcoming than its predecessors.

Early generation dummies served us well, given their limitations, says Cronin, an associate professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering. They provided valuable information to automotive manufacturers who crashed cars in the name of safety, just not enough of it. Now, considering the computing power that’s available to us, it’s time to take them to the next level.

 “What we need are virtual models of the human body that we can utilize to test impact scenarios,” he says. “Our goal is to deepen our understanding of what happens to human tissue during an accident. We want to go inside the body to see what injuries would occur.”

The answer is the creation of  a human body model, one that is both biofidelic — a faithful reproduction of the real thing — and frangible — so that it fails in the same way as a real human body would. It’s a project that brings together an understanding of the geometry of a car crash, of the mechanical properties of human tissue and how it deforms on impact, and the computing power to calculate all the many variables.

These human models contain thousands and thousands of sensors, about one millimetre square, all of them collecting crucial information — a quantum leap ahead of the crash test dummies in use since the 1970s.

“We can have 30,000 sensors in the neck, instead of six,” says Cronin. “We can zoom in on one individual ligament to see what’s going on in there.”

The work is funded by the Global Human Body Models Consortium, an association that includes most of the world’s major car companies and a number of expert centres to develop the models. Automakers will continue to crash test their cars, but with new technology that vastly increases their understanding of the effects of those impacts. Future work will also model what happens if drivers are leaning to one side, or turning their heads.

“When they build a car they want a high degree of certainty it will pass the safety tests, not just to barely pass but exceed the standards and excel,” says Cronin.