DETROIT - At General Motors' Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD) lab, new hyper-tech dummies talk in hyper-speed, recording and transmitting crash data 10,000 times a second. Two-hundred crash test dummies of all shapes and sizes are wired with 70-80 sensors each that tell safety engineers exactly how much and what kind of forces they endure during crash tests.
Engineers analyze data from physical crash tests and computer simulations to understand how a vehicle, its safety systems and occupants respond during a crash. Armed with that data, engineers continuously look for opportunities to enhance the safety of Buick cars and crossovers.
To better reflect reality, the dummies representing men and women range in size from what would be a large adult to a small toddler. The price tag for the most sophisticated dummy can approach $500,000.
The ATD lab is run by GM safety engineer and Technical Fellow Jack Jensen. "We design these test dummies so that they mimic real life," he said. "Data from the dummies helps us predict the risk of injury in a real crash. The more realistic the dummy, the more accurate the test results."
The efforts of Jensen and numerous safety engineers helped the 2011 Buick Regal become a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The award recognizes what the institute considers "good" ratings in front, side and rollover crash tests and evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear crashes. In addition, winning vehicles must offer electronic stability control, which Buick calls StabiliTrak.
"Most people don't realize that the Hybrid III dummy, still used in most frontal crash tests, was created by a group of biomechanical scientists at General Motors who were pioneers in their field of vehicle safety," Jensen noted.
Jensen's decades of crash test experience place him among a select group of highly trained leaders in the area of automotive anthropomorphic testing. He has degrees from the University of Nebraska and Purdue University.
"It's very satisfying for all of us who work here in safety and crashworthiness to know that the work we're doing is preventing injuries and saving lives on the roads," Jensen said.