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The History of Crash Test Dummies
Part 1: Sierra Sam and the family of crash test dummies
Crash Test Dummies Family
Crash Test Dummies - Family
 More of This Crash Test Dummy Feature
• Part I Crash Test Dummies
• Part 2 Crash Test Dummies
Crash Test Dummies on the Web
• Crash Test Dummies: Past & Present by Joe Smrcka
• Crash Test Dummies Ratings
• Biomechanics and Trauma
• Pedestrian & Applied Biomechanics
• History of the Automobile
• Air Bags
"The first crash test dummy was the Sierra Sam created in 1949. This 95th percentile adult male crash test dummy was developed by Sierra Engineering Co. under a contract with the United States Air Force, to be used for evaluation of aircraft ejection seats on rocket sled tests." - Source FTSS

GM Press Release March 19, 1997

In 1997, GM's Hybrid III crash test dummies officially became the industry standard for testing to comply with government frontal impact regulations and air bag safety. GM developed this test device nearly 20 years ago, in 1977, to provide a biofidelic measurement tool -- crash test dummies that behave very similarly to human beings. As it did with its earlier design, Hybrid II, GM shared this cutting-edge technology with government regulators and the auto industry. The sharing of this tool was made in the name of improved safety testing and reduced highway injuries and fatalities, worldwide. The 1997 version of Hybrid III is the GM invention with some modifications. It marks another milestone in the automaker’s trailblazing journey for safety. Hybrid III is the state-of-the-art for testing advanced restraint systems; GM has been using it for years in the development of front-impact air bags. It provides a broad spectrum of reliable data that can be related to the effects of crashes on human injury.

Hybrid III features a posture representative of the way drivers and passengers sit in vehicles. All crash test dummies are faithful to the human form they simulate -- in overall weight, size and proportion. Their heads are designed to respond like the human head in a crash situation. It is symmetrical and the forehead deflects much the way a person's would if struck in a collision. The chest cavity has a steel rib cage that simulates the mechanical behavior of a human chest in a crash. The rubber neck bends and stretches biofidelically, and the knees also are designed to respond to impact, similar to human knees. Hybrid III crash test dummy has a vinyl skin and is equipped with sophisticated electronic tools including accelerometers, potentiometers and load cells. These measure the acceleration, deflection and forces that various body parts experience during crash deceleration.

This advanced device is being improved continuously and was built on a scientific foundation of biomechanics, medical data and input, and testing that involved human cadavers and animals. Biomechanics is the study of the human body and how it behaves mechanically. Universities conducted early biomechanical research using live human volunteers in some very controlled crash tests. Historically, the auto industry had evaluated restraint systems using volunteer testing with humans.

Hybrid III Crash Test DummyTwenty years ago, the development of Hybrid III served as a launching pad to advance the study of crash forces and their effects on human injury. All earlier crash test dummies, even GM's Hybrid I and II, could not provide adequate insight to translate test data into injury-reducing designs for cars and trucks. Early crash test dummies were very crude and had a simple purpose -- to help engineers and researchers verify the effectiveness of restraints or safety belts. Before GM developed Hybrid I in 1968, dummy manufacturers had no consistent methods to produce the devices. The basic weight and size of the body parts were based on anthropological studies, but the dummies were inconsistent from unit to unit. The science of anthropomorphic dummies was in its infancy, and their production quality varied.

Some 30 years ago, GM researchers created Hybrid I by merging the best parts of two primitive dummies. In 1966, Alderson Research Laboratories produced the VIP-50 series for GM and Ford. It was also used by the National Bureau of Standards. This was the first dummy manufactured specifically for the auto industry. Then, in 1967, Sierra Engineering introduced Sierra Stan, a competitive model. Neither satisfied GM engineers, who made their own dummy by combining the best features of both -- hence the name Hybrid I. GM used this model internally but shared its design with competitors through special committee meetings at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Hybrid I was more durable and produced more repeatable results than its predecessors.

The use of these early dummies was sparked by U.S. Air Force testing that had been conducted to develop and improve pilot restraint and ejection systems. From the late forties through the early fifties, the military used crash test dummies and crash sleds to test a variety of applications and human tolerance to injury. Previously they had used human volunteers, but rising safety standards required higher speed tests, and the higher speeds were no longer safe for human subjects. To test pilot-restraint harnesses, one high-speed sled was propelled by rocket engines and accelerated up to 600 m.p.h. Colonel John Paul Stapp shared the results of Air Force crash-dummy research in 1956 at the first annual conference involving auto manufacturers.

Later, in 1962, the GM Proving Ground introduced the first, automotive, impact sled (HY-GE sled). It was capable of simulating actual collision acceleration waveforms produced by full-scale cars. Four years after that, in 1966, GM Research originated a versatile method for determining the extent of injury hazard produced when measuring impact forces on anthropomorphic dummies during laboratory tests.

Ironically, in the past forty years, the auto industry has dramatically out-paced aircraft manufacturers in this technical expertise. As recently as the mid-1990s, automakers worked with the aircraft industry to bring them up to speed with the advances in crash testing as related to human tolerance and injuries. NATO countries were particularly interested in automotive crash research because there were problems in helicopter crashes and with high-speed ejections of pilots. It was thought that the auto data might help make aircraft safer.

A special thanks goes to Claudio Paolini
Crash Test Dummy Photos - United States Department of Transportation

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