May 1, 2008 Engineers created a 3-D crash simulator to increase their understanding of automobile safety. The software enables users to view cars and crashes from any angle, and to remove specific sections of vehicles to reveal damage to parts underneath. The simulations can be used to replace a portion of crash tests and illuminate information that helps improve car safety.
Each year, more than three million people are injured in car accidents, and every 12 minutes, someone dies in a crash. With so many cars on the road, it's a trend that's likely to continue and get worse! But now, high-tech crashes helping save lives.
Shannon Parks' time with her kids is precious now -- especially after a car crash almost took her life. "I went through the intersection and there was a woman coming who ran a red light and then T-boned me at about 45 miles an hour," Parks told Ivanhoe. It took Parks a year to recover from her injuries. Her car was totaled and she was terrified to get back behind the wheel. "I was scared to drive after that," Parks recalled. "I didn't ever want to be in cars with other people."
Now, mechanical engineers are helping make cars safer and stronger during accidents. They're taking crash tests off the field and into the computer lab and re-creating crashes in a 3-D view. "With simulation, you can study different aspects of it," Pradeep Mohan, Ph.D., a mechanical engineer at the National Crash and Analysis Center in Ashburn, Va., told Ivanhoe. "You get multiple views."
Computer software creates models of cars and crash tests. The tests can be viewed from every angle. The software can remove specific sections of the cars, revealing underlying damage. Ultimately, simulations help design better cars that hold up better in collisions. "In this, you can take parts apart. You can understand what's going on within the few areas that cannot be seen in a physical test." Dr. Mohan explained. The simulations have helped better predict which parts might fail during an accident, improving car design at every level.
Shannon feels safe now in a newer car, but still proceeds with caution. "As a matter of fact, I get teased because I tend to look both ways on a one way street," Parks said. You can never be too careful keeping safe.
Computer simulations provide car makers with better information about what happens when smaller cars collide with large vehicles, like SUVs. As a result, the design of the SUV has been adjusted so they are less lethal to passengers in smaller cars.
COMPUTERS, NOT CRASHES: At the National Crash Analysis Center at George Washington University one of the primary focuses is on simulation and advanced computing research. They have been conducting automobile crash tests with computer models. Crash tests are expensive and though useful, do not provide a comprehensive picture. Using a computer model allows for more tests and maximizes research dollars.
ABOUT COMPUTER MODELING: Computer modeling is used to simulate the structure and appearance of both static objects, such as building architecture, and dynamic situations, such as a football game. Computer models can enable the user to test the consequences of choices and decisions. They can provide cutaway views that let you see aspects of an object that would be invisible in the real artifact, as well as visualization tools that can provide many different perspectives. Physical models that reproduce behavior are limited by the physics of the world, while computer models have much looser bounds. Computer models enable you to run companies and civilizations, fight battles, play football games and evolve new species.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A CRASH? The laws of physics say that an object in motion will stay in motion, with the same speed and direction, unless it is acted upon by an outside force. So if you are traveling at 60 MPH and your car hits a solid wall and comes to an immediate stop, your body will continue going at 60 MPH until it is stopped by, say, a seatbelt, airbag, or, at worst, a windshield. If the car has a rigid body, the rapid deceleration caused by the impact will produce injuries and fatalities. Because the stopping time is only a split second, the force on the passengers is very high.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.