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Safety Research in 3-D

April 26, 2010

A whole-body laser scanner, purchased as part of a cooperative agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), now complements UMTRI's state-of-the-art safety research equipment.

UMTRI's Biosciences Group will use the scanner to take advanced, three-dimensional surface measurements of the human body. The data will be used in ongoing research to develop new design guidelines for crash dummies representing child passengers, ages three, six, and ten.

Children this age comprise a vulnerable group, explains UMTRI research associate professor Matthew Reed. According to Reed, half of all back-seat vehicle occupants are children twelve and under, but most vehicles are not designed to provide good seatbelt fit for their body size. UMTRI's new laser scanner will be used to make accurate measurements of body shape and size for children in this age range.

"Our near-term goal is to gather data on three-dimensional body shapes of children in automotive-seated postures," said Reed. "The objective is to provide new design guidelines for crash dummies so that they will better represent child anatomy. Better dummies will provide improved assessments of restraint systems, leading to safer cars."

The measurement process doesn't take long. The scanner, which evokes the image of a transporter device straight from Star Trek, employs four laser beams that travel vertically, taking a whole-body scan in twelve seconds. The scanner assembles up to 500,000 three-dimensional surface location measurements into a computer representation of the body shape.

The laser scanner represents a significant improvement over previous methods of gathering body surface data, said Reed. One of these methods involved using a hand-held laser wand to produce a three-dimensional image of the subject. The process took twenty minutes, which made it impractical to use for child subjects.

Reed and Sheila Ebert-Hamilton lead a team that will begin measuring children this summer.

Image: A three-dimensional image of UMTRI Director Peter Sweatman demonstrates the laser scanner's output. Image courtesy of UMTRI Biosciences Group.