Every day in 2006 an average of five children age 14 and younger were killed, and 568 were injured, in motor-vehicle crashes in the United States.

Corey Shum (left), a programmer/analyst in the Enabling Technology Laboratory in the School of Engineering, and Jeff Foster, associate director for administration and finance with the Southern Consortium for Injury Biomechanics, look at the computer image of a child. The technology for the digital child project was developed at UAB.

Extensive research in vehicle safety for adults has been conducted, but the same cannot be said for children – yet. UAB scientists who are members of the UAB Injury Control Research Center Southern Consortium for Injury Biomechanics (SCIB) are teaming with others to develop a sophisticated computer model that evaluates the physical consequences of car crashes on children at various stages of development.

This research may lead to improved automotive safety standards and vehicle designs and potentially save the lives of numerous children each year.

“Until now, most of the testing for automotive safety has been done with anthropomorphic dummies,” says Jay Goldman, D.Sc., dean emeritus of the School of Engineering and associate director for research and scientific oversight of the SCIB. “It’s almost impossible to put into a mechanical dummy all of the information that we know about how a human being responds to forces experienced in a motor-vehicle crash.

“We’re hoping to develop a computer model for children that is extremely realistic and responds as a human being would.”

The project includes on-campus collaborations with Alan Shih, Ph.D., and Bharat Soni, Ph.D., in Mechanical Engineering and Dan Young, M.D., and Terry Estes, in Pediatric Imaging at Children’s Hospital.

Working with Wayne State
UAB and Wayne State University are developing digital models of children ages 3, 6 and 10. The institutions also are identifying methods to extract anatomic component models (such as the femur, tibia, etc.) and regional models (such as the thoracic and abdomen) from whole body representations for application at other SCIB-member institutions where additional experiments will be conducted.

“This is cutting-edge technology,” says Jeffrey Foster, associate director for administration and finance with the SCIB.

“There are not many groups doing this type of research. To the best of our knowledge the UAB-based consortium is the only entity putting forth this effort.”

Wayne State is supplying UAB with data from real car crashes to develop and refine the models. Once the computer models are finalized, scientists at UAB will be able to test the outcome of an infinite number of crash scenarios.

The SCIB approach to the research is developing the whole-body model prior to extraction of component models rather than the opposite way. This will ensure accurate representation between the local and global models.

Subsequently, SCIB-member institutions can adjust and modify the regional models according to their experimental boundary conditions.

They also will be able to input material properties using the methods being developed in the UAB and Wayne State projects and input loading conditions to determine if the regional model predictions match experimentally obtained data.

Auto industry interested in child-based research
Foster says there has been a big push for automakers to address child-injury prevention, and the auto industry is watching this research closely.

Representatives from Chrysler and Ford attended the SCIB fifth annual Scientific Symposium in December 2007 where the project was discussed.

“Most safety designs are for average-sized adults, and children are just different,” Foster says. “Children are not simply small adults. They have different bone mass, body density, constantly changing centers of gravity and their tissues have properties that are different than those of adults.

“To our knowledge, this is the first project to assess the physical responses to a car crash that will use a computer-generated simulation of a child’s entire body. Hopefully by September we will have some models for the industry to review.”

The SCIB is a unique, multidisciplinary alliance of world-class engineers, physicians and scientists working collaboratively to achieve a significant reduction in crash-related injuries and deaths. For more on the SCIB and the UAB ICRC, visit www.uab.edu/SCIB/ .