WASHINGTON — Thor is the mythical hammer-wielding thunder god who defended fellow deities from the giants. In the auto industry, Thor is the next-generation male anthropomorphic test device.
Translation: He's the newest crash-test dummy.
Thor, developed under funding from NHTSA, is the most lifelike dummy yet.
A crash-test dummy is simply a mechanical device shaped like a human and loaded with calibrated electric sensors used to measure human injury potential in vehicle crashes. Dummies come in various shapes and sizes and for different purposes. There are smaller ones for women and children and ones designed specifically for front, rear and side-impact tests. They simulate human response to impacts, accelerations, deflections and forces.
Regulatory bodies such as NHTSA and the European New Car Assessment Program, as well as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, have protocols for what type of dummy to use for a particular test and the onboard instrumentation required.
Thor's full rib package, clavicles and softer features replicate humans more accurately than today's Hybrid 3 dummies, and it can capture much more information, enabling engineers to better understand how the body interacts with the vehicle in a crash.
Thor has about 140 data channels, compared with 43 on a Hybrid 3, as well as some unique instrumentation, explained Gerald Goupil Jr., director of crash-test operations at Calspan Corp.
Sensors in the chest cavity can determine rib displacement by recording the relative motion forces on each rib, while angular rate sensors in the head look at G-forces to help scientists determine whether a crash could cause brain injury. Load cells and potentiometers can measure how the feet are twisted by accident forces. Channels that contain the sensors plug into a data acquisition box mounted on a big steel plate in the back of the vehicle.
NHTSA and Euro NCAP have proposed using Thor dummies in future crash tests so cars can be made safer.
Thor is commercially available from Kistler Instrument Corp., Humanetics Innovative Solutions Inc. and Cellbond, even though NHTSA, which spent years developing the device, has yet to issue a final rule on the exact specifications. Many automakers already are investing in Thor dummies for various stages of development, said Jason Jenkins, who manages the impact lab at Transportation Research Center Inc. in Ohio.
Some of the newer dummies can cost $600,000 to $800,000 apiece, he said.
Goupil said Thor will be especially useful for NHTSA's new oblique test mode, in which a stationary test vehicle is struck by a crash cart at 56 mph with a 35 percent overlap and the test vehicle oriented 15 degrees relative to the moving vehicle.
"What's unique about this test mode is because of the overlay and angle of the vehicles, the occupants go into a state of rotation instead of straight into an airbag or having a load coming in from the side," he said. "It represents a real-world situation where a car, for example, crosses the yellow line and the driver tries to avoid contact. The body could be out of position relative to the safety restraints, so how does the vehicle respond?"