April 20, 2011
A University of Michigan student team led by two biomedical engineering students, along with faculty advisor UMTRI research associate professor Matthew Reed, was recently named co-winner of the North American region in an international student design competition focused on vehicle safety. Their project: Design and development of a low-cost child restraint for use in developing countries.
The goal of the project is to create a child restraint that can be constructed using low-cost materials and low-technology manufacturing techniques while providing excellent crash protection.
U-M students Megan Bland and Rachel Strauss presented the low-cost child restraint concept to judges from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in March as part of the regional competition of the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles (ESV) International Student Safety Design Competition (SSTDC). The competition is held biannually to promote student involvement in traffic safety research.
Selection of the U-M project by the NHTSA ESV judging panel was based on the U-M team's excellent presentation of the developed safety concept, demonstration of a functional scale model, and written project documentation, according to Arthur Carter, North American regional coordinator of the ESV SSTDC.
"Your team's project was unique, showed great teamwork, and advances the field of automotive safety," said Carter in an email notification.
[Pictured: Prototype of the low-cost child restraint.]
The U-M students began working on the project at UMTRI in January of 2010. During the summer, the students designed, built, and tested a prototype. Using seed funds awarded in the first round of the ESV competition, they built and tested a revised prototype in the winter of 2011. The results, said Reed, prove the design concept is feasible.
"These students have dedicated themselves to improving access to high-quality child restraints for caregivers in the developing world," said Reed. "Although many other factors influence the use of child restraints, particularly legislation and enforcement, cost is one barrier that we can address with engineering. These students have demonstrated that it is feasible to pass the tough dynamic criteria of the U.S. child restraint standards with a simple design that can be manufactured with minimal technology."
According to Strauss, the concept for the project was originally developed through M-HEAL, a student organization on campus that designs health solutions for use in developing countries. The original members of the design team saw the opportunity to develop a child restraint as a way to address the rising safety concerns of child vehicle occupant fatalities.
According to NHTSA, 93 percent of child road fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries. Among vehicle occupants, children in child restraints are 67 percent less likely to suffer a fatality than an unrestrained child.
These were some of the facts that the design team learned during project development.
"Throughout the process of developing the prototypes, we've been able to learn about the importance of child vehicle occupant safety and how child restraints protect children effectively," said Strauss. "We were pleased to see the project progress into the second and third versions of the prototype as part of the ESV competition. We knew that this idea would catch the attention of NHTSA in the student design competition, and we are very pleased to have made it this far in the competition."
The U-M project team, along with teams from the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Virginia Tech--Wake Forest University Center for Injury Biomechanics (CIB) will represent North America at the ESV Conference to be held in Washington, D.C. in June. They will join teams from around the world to present their work as part of the final international round of the competition.
After the new child restraint has been tested successfully to both U.S. and European standards, the team intends to make the entire design specification available for free to entrepreneurs across the world.
Photos provided courtesy of UMTRI Biosciences Group.