General Motors safety engineers seek various approaches to advance crash testmethods. For several engineers, one approach is to get out of the lab and into the University of Michigan Hospital to witness surgeries and other medical procedures resulting from crash-related injuries.
This hands-on experience is part of GM’s collaboration with the University of Michigan’s International Center of Automotive Medicine (ICAM). ICAM is dedicated to preventing injuries from happening and estimate that their work has influenced the design of more than 75 million vehicles on the road today.
Over the last decade, 25 GM safety personnel have participated in ICAM’s Technical Fellowship for Engineers. The close proximity of ICAM to the extensive safety design and engineering expertise of the automotive industry and its suppliers enables frequent and timely exchanges of information.
Crash test engineer Barbara Bunn, vehicle safety performance engineer Suzanne Kayser and senior field performance assessment engineer Mike Haldenwanger, currently spend a day each week at ICAM’s research labs in Ann Arbor, where they attend surgeries and dissections to understand crash-related injuries up close. It is knowledge they use to advance automotive safety. The ICAM research team benefits from the automotive engineer relationship as well.
“It truly is collaborative work,” said Dr. Stewart Wang, the center’s founding director and head of the University of Michigan Program for Injury Research and Education as well directing Acute Care Surgery research. “GM’s engineers are the best at what they do and we learn a great deal from them. They’ve really pushed me to up my game by demanding mathematically specific injury data that can serve as the basis for new test methodologies and occupant protection solutions.”
ICAM provides GM’s safety engineers “analytical morphomics,” a 3D medical imaging and computational biomechanics process developed specifically for crash research. ICAM has amassed tens of thousands of full body scans of crash victims, measuring millions of data points that are useful not only for safety engineers but also enables more precise, personalized medical care.
It all sounds very technical but the benefit of GM’s relationship with ICAM is actually that it allows the safety engineers to integrate the human side of vehicle crashes with technical knowledge of crashes. The morphomics technology and understanding what people go through biomechanically helps bridge the gap between crash test dummies and real people.
But the most gratifying benefit of all is the knowledge that their work makes a difference every day.
“Knowing that crash field data is enabling first responders as well as doctors and surgeons at U of M help more crash victims make a full recovery is truly inspiring,” Bunn said. “Hopefully, the advances we’re making in occupant protection as a result of this fellowship will mean even fewer people will suffer crash injuries in years to come.”