New dummy behind wheel in crash tests Research: A Washington County firm is developing the next-generation crash-test dummy, named Thor, to learn about new injuries caused in car accidents.

June 01, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

BOONSBORO -- Nagarajan Rangarajan points to a mark on Thor's left shoulder and explains that it's a seat-belt rub burn.

"A lot of people get them in car crashes," he says.

Thor -- and Rangarajan -- know a lot about car crashes. In the past few months, Thor has been involved in more crashes than most motorists will suffer in a lifetime. There will be many more.

Thor is the next-generation auto crash-test dummy, and he's being developed by Gesac Inc., a small research and development company that specializes in safety programs in this small Washington County town.

The new dummy is being designed to replace the Hybrid III, which has served the auto industry for nearly 20 years.

The seat-belt burn is just an example of the information that Thor will provide auto designers, according to Rangarajan, president and founder of Gesac.

"Things have changed since the 1970s," Rangarajan said, referring to the emergence of more sophisticated seat belts and the introduction of air bags. "Thor has a new shoulder design. It's more like the human shoulder. It shows how the shoulder interacts with the seat belt."

Thor is also designed to provide more information on head and neck injuries, damage to internal organs such as the kidneys, and impairments to a motorist's legs, feet and ankles.

Attention is being focused on the lower limbs as a result of widespread use of air bags and seat belts, according to Brian O'Neill, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

With the use of air bags and seat belts, he said, hospitals are treating many crash victims with no major injuries from the waist up, but with severe damage to their lower limbs.

By providing information on the injuries to the lower extremities, Thor will help auto manufacturers reinforce the footwell, the section beneath the dash that extends to the floor.

"Thor will be a lot smarter than the Hybrid III," Rangarajan said as he removed the dummy's face to expose a half-dozen metal sensors that measure the forces of the head's impact with the car's interior during a crash.

"Thor will provide about 150 pieces of information," Rangarajan said. "That's about three times the amount from the Hybrid III."

He said the new dummy is designed to "behave like a human, but not break like humans. We want them to give as much information as possible because tests are so expensive."

Rangarajan said the average crash test, where a car rams a barrier, costs between $20,000 and $30,000. "So you want to get as much information as possible," he said.

Thor has more extensive instrumentation throughout its body, said Mark Haffner, manager of the advanced crash-test devices for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

He said the government has invested about $2.5 million in the development of the dummy. Another $1 million has been contributed from auto manufacturers, research laboratories and universities around the world.

When completed next year, Thor will serve as the standard crash-test dummy used worldwide by auto-related industries.

Haffner said a fully instrumented Thor will sell for about $150,000.

"Compared to the cost of developing a new car, that disappears in the dust," Haffner said.

Thor, at 5 feet, 10 inches tall and 170 pounds, represents the size of the average male motorist.

There could be a family of new dummies, according to Haffner. "We are already looking at the Greek mythology books for a female name," he said, adding that Thor may also get a bigger brother.

A child dummy? "I'm not sure," Haffner said. "We haven't gotten that far."

Gesac was started by Rangarajan in the basement of his Rockville home in 1984.

He said the company was formed as an offshoot of the human-safety research he was doing while obtaining his doctorate in engineering mechanics and biomedical engineering at Iowa State University.

Gesac has 17 employees and operates in a former London Fog plant.

Rangarajan said the company has hired 10 workers in the past year and he hopes the company will grow to 60 employees over the next two years.

Thor could play a major role in any expansion.

Under the terms of Gesac's contract with the government, the information related to Thor's development will become public and can be used by Gesac and its competitors to mass-produce the dummy.

"We hope to win that business," Rangarajan said of the impending production contract with the government.

Pub Date: 6/01/98

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