ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Better car seats for seniors and precrash systems that recognize and warn of stray animals are among the results Toyota Motor Corp. says it is reaping from research launched in response to its recall crisis.
The Collaborative Safety Research Center, founded two years ago at the Toyota Technical Center here, is about to launch a third wave of safety projects.
So far, the center has teamed with 16 outside institutions to research 26 auto safety-related matters.
Partners include university and hospital research arms, such as those from the University of Michigan, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Research findings will debut in Toyota vehicles in the next couple of years, said Chuck Gulash, director of the $50 million, five-year program.
But the outcomes are all open-source and made public so other automakers and suppliers can use them.
"The results of some of this work will start to appear in some of our next-generation systems in the next couple years," Gulash said in an interview. "But you don't have to be in a Toyota to benefit. We're sharing that information."
The center was a key part of Toyota's public relations offensive to win back buyers after its 2009-10 unintended acceleration recall debacle. Gulash expects to add more projects this year and next. But the future of the center is undecided after that.
Expected outcomes of research so far:
n Car seats better tailored to the bodies of older and overweight drivers. Traditional testing for seat positioning and seat belt fit focused on healthy adults. The new research pinpoints the optimum fit for groups with different postures.
n Computer modeling for the body structure and material properties of children for more realistic crash testing. The models, which don't yet exist for children, will create a whole-body simulation of a 10-year-old child from 2 million data points.
n Computer tools to quickly analyze and sort massive databases of driving information. Viewing the thousands of videos in the Naturalistic Driving Study, a government-sponsored video bank of everyday driving habits from volunteer subjects, would take decades. New software will lend order to that chaos.
A third wave of four to six projects -- including one aimed at developing a precrash sensor system to identify and warn about stray animals -- will be announced by year end.