DETROIT – General Motors safety engineers are helping to advance crash test methods by getting out of the lab and into University of Michigan Hospital to witness surgeries and other medical procedures resulting from crash-related injuries.
GM’s collaboration with the University of Michigan’s International Center of Automotive Medicine (ICAM) over the past decade has resulted in 25 GM safety personnel participating in ICAM’s Technical Fellowship for Engineers.
Crash test engineer Barbara Bunn, vehicle safety performance engineer Suzanne Kayser and senior field performance assessment engineer Mike Haldenwanger currently spend a day each week at ICAM’s research labs at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, where they attend surgeries and dissections to understand crash-related injuries up close. It is knowledge they use to advance automotive safety.
“ICAM is dedicated to preventing injuries from happening in the first place,” said Dr. Stewart Wang, the center’s founding director and head of the University of Michigan Program for Injury Research and Education as well as director of acute care surgery research. “We estimate our work has influenced the design of more than 75 million vehicles on the road today.”
GM noted that its collaboration with ICAM reflects the automaker’s commitment to crash safety. For the 2012 model year, 14 Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles have been named 2012 Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Eleven 2012 models have received 5-Star overall vehicle scores in U.S. New Car Assessment Program testing.
“It truly is collaborative work,” Wang said. “GM’s engineers are the best at what they do and we learn a great deal from them. With all my experience as a researcher, they’ve really pushed me to up my game by demanding mathematically specific injury data that can serve as the basis for new test methodologies and occupant protection solutions.”
ICAM provides GM’s safety engineers “analytical morphomics,” a 3D medical imaging and computational biomechanics process developed specifically for crash research. ICAM has amassed tens of thousands of full body scans of crash victims, measuring millions of data points. The information is not only useful for safety engineers; it also enables more precise, personalized medical care.
“Morphomics helps bridge the gap between crash test dummies and real people,” Haldenwanger said. “Being able to see individual variations from body to body is helping us understand at an anatomical level how to better adapt safety systems to provide a higher level of protection to a wider segment of the population.”
The ICAM research has helped the GM engineers better understand leg and hip injuries in frontal crashes. This, in turn, helps them design knee bolsters and seat belts to help mitigate injuries to lower extremities.
“Understanding what people go through biomechanically as a result of vehicle crashes is a strong motivator for finding ways to prevent injuries from happening in the first place, or at the very least lessen their severity,” Kayser said.
For all the high-tech analysis involved in ICAM work, it is the human side of the fellowship – specifically attending surgeries of crash victims – that profoundly affects GM’s participants in the safety fellowship.
“Knowing that crash field data is enabling first responders as well as doctors and surgeons at U of M help more crash victims make a full recovery is truly inspiring,” Bunn said. “Hopefully, the advances we’re making in occupant protection as a result of this fellowship will mean even fewer people will suffer crash injuries in years to come.”
To view a Buick crash test video, click here.