Ask Dr. Steve Rouhana about his coworkers and he’ll likely tell you they’re “dummies.” While we’ve all probably said that ourselves as some point, Steve means it quite literally: crash-test dummies are his job. As the Senior Technical Leader for Safety, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, he explained that “crash-test dummies and virtual humans work together to help us advance the safety of our vehicles.”
Steve is internationally recognized for pioneering research in the area of human response to impact, particularly with regard to abdominal injuries and air bag noise, and he has written more than 65 technical papers on basic biomechanical research, crash-test dummy development and seat belts. He helped Ford lead the development of pediatric crash dummies and inflatable seat belts; Ford introduced the auto industry’s first production inflatable seat belts for rear-seat occupants, first offered on the new Explorer. Additionally, “We participated in the development of this side-impact dummy. It is a highly advanced dummy that uses 200 different sensors, some of them infrared, to take measures of things such as acceleration of the head, the forces at the base of the skull and the base of the neck and compression at each of the ribs. All of the measurements have a mathematical relationship to injury,” Steve said.
Steve recognizes the fears parents have about their children’s safety, as he is a father of three. “I was driving home from a family vacation in 2001. My son, Jonathan, who was five at the time, fell asleep in his booster seat with his head and neck resting against the seat belt.” Steve realized immediately that his team needed to create a dummy test to determine the effect of the belt’s air bag inflation on a sleeping child in that kind of position.
Steve continued, “A typical infant’s head is one-third of the body mass, while the head of an adult is typically one-tenth. A child’s head wants to continue moving forward in a crash, yet their neck muscles are not as developed, making them more vulnerable to injury. Pediatricians tell me to protect the head. During the development of the restraint system for a new vehicle, while trying to protect the head, we must also measure the ways the abdomen may interact with the safety belt. Our job is to balance the motion of the child.”
Steve and his team also developed an abdominal insert for pediatric crash dummies. “We developed a silicone shell the size of a 6-year-old child’s abdomen. Kids have a higher propensity for abdominal injury because their pelvis, the bone that has to grab the belt, is smaller. An abdomen is soft and has vital organs inside. The silicone abdomen, which is also soft, gives us a direct measure of what the likelihood of injury would be if the pelvis slides under the belt. It helps to give us design direction so we can iterate the design to further improve the product.”
With Steve, his team and, yes, their dummies leading the way, Ford will continue its strong commitment to having the highest standards in vehicle safety. “If what I do in the area of passenger safety can convince someone to buy a Ford vehicle, then I’m glad to help in any way I can.”