Why Crash-Test Dummies Could Be Dying Out

Tue 28th Sep 2021

They have been a staple of crash test simulations for vehicles for a number of years, but the crash-test dummy may have drawn its last breath as companies aim for digital modelling.

Speaking about plans to phase out real-life crash test scenarios, Markus Biewendt, head of vehicle safety at Volkswagen explained that computer simulation is capable of achieving far more detailed and accurate results.

“The capabilities of simulation have improved a lot; it’s become more accurate,” Biewendt. “More detailed and many effects can be simulated today, which were not possible in the past.

“Today, full crash simulation is used for each configuration and load case, there are quite detailed models of dummies, airbags, interiors and so on. Models of gas flow within air bag models, complex deformation and rupture models for plastics, as well as many other new possibilities, have opened up in simulation. The result is, the ability to handle more complex scenarios with the same amount of testing, and to get a higher degree of maturity within our product development process.”

While crash testing has made millions of vehicles safer to drive, the Volkswagen safety guru explains that computer modelling will allow for even safer vehicles, and will also allow for a greater number of changes to the interior and exterior of a car, due to the speed in which they can put the variants into a computer.

“Right now, we are in a transition to get rid of prototypes within the next few years. It is our goal to eliminate every kind of hardware testing during development (eg. down to the airbag module level), with only release tests required before market introduction of a new car.

“[An increasing number of] vehicle variants, the growing complexity in demands and the opportunity to speed up development and assess more parameters – and ultimately make cars safer.”

The first prototype crash-test dummy was built in 1949 and used to test aircraft ejection seats, nicknamed ‘Sierra Sam’, it was a 95th percentile male dummy, which means that it was heavier and taller than 95 per cent of human males. The very first crash tests were performed using acual human cadavers, and followed closely by volunteers and then animals!