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Ford Aiming to Engineer a Digital Child

Virtual “dummy” could help save real kids.

by on Mar.31, 2011

Ford's Dr. Steve Rouhana with child crash dummies.

Can a virtual child help save the 1,300 or so real kids killed each year in motor vehicle accidents?

That’s what Ford Motor Co. is hoping.  The maker has launched a high-tech project to recreate the very complicated anatomy of a young child in digital form to make it easier to develop more advanced seatbelts and other safety systems.

“The virtual child will allow us to better understand how a youngster interacts with a restraint system,” explained Ford’s senior technical researcher Dr. Steve Rouhana, “so they can be made more effective.”

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The new project is the latest effort in safety research that, at Ford, goes back a half century.  Like its competitors, the maker routinely crashes prototypes of its future products to see how well they will perform in the real world.  But, in recent years, Ford has been steadily migrating from physical crash testing to digital simulations.

That has a number of advantages.  For one thing, it costs a lot less than producing dozens of hand-assembled prototypes, and it takes a lot less time.  And as the software gets better, the virtual crashes have become as accurate – sometimes even better – at reproducing a real world collision.