UKZN Team Designs Crash Test DummyHealth Sciences

UKZN’s Crash Test Dummy team.UKZN’s Crash Test Dummy team.

A UKZN team has built an automated crash test dummy and designed an automated control system for a minibus used in an experiment aimed at improving road safety.

The team comprised Professor Riaan Stopforth and Dr Shaniel Davrajh of UKZN, Mr Craig Proctor-Parker of Accidents Specialists, and six Mechanical Engineering students.

The creations were on display at the recent Mechanical Engineering Open Day.

The objective of the project was to make mini-bus taxi drivers and passengers more aware of ‘how easy it is for accidents to happen.’  Toyota sponsored the mini-bus taxi used in the crash test.

A mini-bus taxi was chosen as this is a common vehicle used on South African roads to transport large numbers of passengers.

The project itself was divided into two sections, with two groups of students working together.

Mr Nekhil Singh, Mr Brenton Nagasar and Ms Zamile Ngema designed and built the crash dummy. The crash test automation was designed and built by Mr Brandon Lotter, Mr Kiran Setty and Mr Sylvester da Silva.

The brief was that the crash dummy had to have properties similar to that of a human body.  It also needed to be able to record information during the crash test.

Ngema researched and tested the materials needed to construct the dummy and also facilitated the instillation of a sensor mounting system to capture data. ‘The fact that we were designing a system with the potential to save lives made this project really exciting,’ she said.

Singh designed the mechanical systems and software and was involved with the medical data and experimental work. Nagasar was tasked to structure the accelerometer and gyroscope, which measured the G-force and angular velocity used to assess the severity of the accident.   ‘I was really excited to see how the experiment went because this information can be shared with automotive companies to help improve safety features of vehicles,’ he said. 

Setty’s task was to construct controls for the mechanical steering system and a braking system able to cut the engine’s power in case of an emergency. Lotter was also involved in the brake control system in the taxi as well as working on the accelerator and brake for the back-up vehicle. Mr Sylvester da Silva was responsible for designing the housing for the control system in both vehicles and the steering system for the secondary vehicle.

Project supervisor Professor Riaan Stopforth explained the purpose of the test:  ‘We wanted the vehicle to travel at speeds of up to 110km/h, after which a turning manoeuvre would be performed autonomously, causing the vehicle to roll,’ he said.  ‘Sensors inside the taxi would record the readings of how the vehicle moved and the G-forces experienced. Cameras inside the vehicle would record the event and the effect it had on the dummies.’

Due to wet weather during the experiments, the mini bus did not roll, but instead skidded across the road violently.

‘These results are important,’ said Stopforth, ‘as a test in such conditions has not been performed before according to accident specialists in the USA. The crash dummy was thrown around violently in the vehicle, as was seen in the video recording footage.’

The dummy is undergoing an ‘autopsy’ to identify internal injuries, but Stopforth said there was already evidence of life-threatening injuries.

‘The results have shown that if a mini-bus rolls on the road with no external factors influencing it, then it must be due to the vehicle being poorly maintained. The reason we did not experience the roll was due to wet conditions, and a new vehicle,’ said Stopforth.

A high speed camera recorded the event for future vehicle motion observation at a slow speed. 

‘All the students in this project along with Dr Davrajh worked very hard in bringing it together,’ said Stopforth.

He thanked Toyota for sponsoring the Department with the Quantum that was used and Accidents Specialists for taking part in the project.

Basetsana Mogashoa