Smarter dummies could make cars safer

The patients at SynDaver Labs in Tampa are actually synthetic humans.

"This is our high-end hospital model. It actually has onboard physiology that controls the heart wave form, blood pressure, blood flow. It blinks, it has pupil dilation and it can go through the stages of shock," demonstrated SynDaver president Christopher Sakezles.

This patient is by no means an ordinary dummy. Layer by layer, it's scientifically crafted to resemble a human. It contains muscles, organs, blood vessels and nerves.

"The tissue is very fragile. It's just as fragile as live human tissue so the joints will dislocate, the bones will break, the soft tissue will not bruise but it gets injured by blunt force trauma," explained Sakezles.

While SynDaver humanoids have been used for medical training across the world, their susceptibility to trauma is attracting a different kind of client: the automotive industry.

"I needed to create a body that would match the appropriate weight and structure and still have a beating heart and respiration, so they could track that from the outside to see how the vibration affected the heart rate and respirations," said team leader Harry Olsen.

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Using in-house artists and equipment like 3D printers, it took four months to create a beating, four-chambered heart. Traditional crash-test dummies are made of plastic and silicone, with sensors embedded to detect injuries. Direct effects on the SynDaver heart can be measured using a radar beam positioned behind the seat of a car.

"Because it is mainly water, fiber and salt just like we are, it captures the metrics of the actual tissue much better than anything that is steel or plastic," explained Olsen.

Sakezles believes more automakers will adopt the new technology. "We're trying to replicate anatomy and that's a process that's never going to be finished until I can make a carbon copy of you, for example, and that's a thousand years away."