You know those crash test dummies researchers use to test how safe cars are. Well, they might need to be redesigned. And you know why?
Because, as a society, we've gained too much weight and the dummies no longer represent the average person.
When they came onto the market in 1976, the dummies were designed to represent the "average" American male: 5'9 and 170 lbs (1.8m and 77 kg).
Now, more than 35 years later, we're facing an obesity epidemic.
In this country, a recent study suggested obesity rates are at record levels.
In the U.S., more than a third of Americans are obese and the average American male is now an inch shorter and 25 lbs heavier. In other words, 5'8 and 195 lbs.
Not only that, but researchers say crash test dummies don't accurately reflect the height difference between the average adult in America and in China - the fastest growing segment of the car market.
So, what to do?
Well, there's one project being designed by the wonderfully named Global Human Body Models Consortium (GHBMC).
It's made up of auto parts suppliers and manufacturers, including Chrysler and General Motors, who are looking to create computer models of people for crashes.
The computer models, they say, would be far more human than a steel and rubber dummy because they could design the model in different shapes and sizes.
They can also account for the age of different people - elderly, middle age, teenagers and young children. And they can put different models through a variety of simulated crashes.
"We want to be able to run tests with models of people who are obese, or with extra mass where real people have extra mass - around the abdomen - and we can't do that with an ATD," says scientist Scott Gayzick.
Plus, as the BBC writes, "a dummy can't accurately predict what happens to a real person's bones and organs during a crash."
To create the models, researchers take CT scans of real people in seated and lying positions and build 3D representations of the human skeleton.
After that, they add MRI scans to include muscles, internal organs and the brain.
Consortium member Joel Stitzel of Wake Forest University told the BBC, "Once we have the bone component and the soft-tissue component we can build an accurate image of a person. That's like the canvas."
"Then, we add the mechanics and the stiffnesses of the components to make it like a real human: we play Frankenstein," he said.
A typical accident happens in the blink of an eye, even less.
But with computer simulations, researchers can slow things down and really analyze what happens to different parts of the body.
"When you run a test with a dummy, all you can say is that the dummy gets hit in the head, here are the forces, here is the acceleration and here is the motion-time history of the head," said Guy Nusholtz, an expert at Chrysler.
"With a computer model we can attempt to duplicate the fundamental physics of the brain and see what happens to it."
Of course, as sophisticated as all of this sounds, at the end of the day you're still making a car for the general population.
So, as the BBC says "manufacturers would have to run multiple tests with different virtual models, using an average of the result for the final design."
"Ultimately, these developments should make cars far safer. In addition, it raises the possibility of creating different versions of the same car for different markets."
via: The BBC