A vehicle that's so safe, nobody will die in it? New technologies are bringing us ever closer to that goal.
Despite today's sophisticated testing capabilities, Bhatti says one of the roadblocks to the zero-fatality car is researchers' understanding of human anatomy and physiology - for example, they don't know enough about how the brain responds to a head injury to simulate a model that can distinguish between light and severe injuries.
Currently, virtual dummies help measure only displacements, velocities and physical force, Bhatti says. Work is under way - mostly by a group of partners led by the Global Human Body Models Consortium - on building a human model that can measure tissue damage, brain trauma and other accident damage beyond what the typical crash test dummy can show.
David Pulaski, an analyst at market research firm Harris Interactive, related a story about a recent real-world incident for a carmaker he did not name: A thin and light woman was sitting in the back seat of a car involved in an accident, but the car did not deploy an airbag because it was designed to sense a heavier weight and larger size.
If the designers had used more environmental and passenger variables in simulations testing the airbag system, the car could have sensed the woman and deployed the airbag appropriately. This points to a need to expand simulation testing to include more scenarios, which will require even more processing power.
Another major limitation to crash simulations is cost, says Pulaski. Every car company could pour millions of dollars into materials research or virtual human tissue for crash dummies, but consumers would balk at the higher prices car companies would need to charge to offset the costs.
Most of us have accepted the reality that driving cars will sometimes cause fatal injuries. Pulaski says there needs to be another incentive - just as car companies finally started addressing fuel consumption problems when the cost of oil escalated beyond the stratosphere.
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