THOR: The God of Crash Test Dummies

What can THOR teach us about car accidents? Quite a bit actually.

Last week, we showed you how crash test dummies have evolved over the years. Today, we take a look at where they’re headed and how modern improvements are making crash tests increasingly reliable.

How crash tests work

The way we gather and interpret crash test data has come a long way since the practice began in the 1950s, but the basics of how we actually perform the tests haven’t changed all that much. A dummy — or sometimes a whole family of them — loaded with sensors gets buckled into a stripped-down car. Grease paint is often applied to the dummy’s head, and then the car is sent hurtling into a barrier (or, in the case of side-impact tests, a barrier is sent hurtling into the car).

During the collision, the dummy’s grease paint rubs off on any surface it comes into contact with, indicating potential injuries caused by air bag deployment.

Researchers then decipher electronic records from the dummy’s numerous load cells — sensors that convert the force of impact into electronic signals — and various other devices on different parts of the dummy’s body (head, neck, chest, pelvis, legs, feet, etc.). They also look at physical damage to the car and review video of the impact to paint a complete picture of the crash. That picture eventually becomes a crash test rating.

THOR: the future of crash tests

A new crash test dummy named THOR, which has been in development since the 1990s, is slated to replace the Hybrid III — currently the crash test dummy of choice for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The biofidelity (a fancy word for being lifelike) of THOR is amazing. The dummy’s head and neck are designed with muscular resistance so they swivel like an actual human’s head and not like a rag doll. THOR also features clavicles and an entire set of ribs lined with sensors to give researchers a better understanding of how crashes affect the human thorax. And as development continues, THOR will react (and look) more and more like us.

But THOR isn’t just a pretty face filled with over 134 channels of data (78 more than Hybrid III). He can also decipher everything from the tension in the Achilles tendon during a crash to the force of a blow to the head in a front-end collision. And in addition to load sensors that measure the force of impact, THOR sports accelerometers, which record the post-crash acceleration on particular parts of the body.

While THOR hasn’t quite made his way into the standard rotation of NHTSA’s dummy list, his development has certainly paved the way for even more detailed crash test results. Along with virtual crash testing, THOR represents the future of more lifelike crash testing and increased automotive safety.

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