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A Look at GM's Safety Dummies

Forget those adorable crash test dummies from TV campaigns of the past, GM’s safety dummies are technological wizards and can cost upwards of $500,000 each.

The name sounds “high falutin” but its basic message is preserving the lives of the passengers that GM vehicles carry. At General Motors’ Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD) lab, new hyper-tech dummies talk in hyper-speed, recording and transmitting crash data 10,000 times a second. Two-hundred crash test dummies of all shapes and sizes are wired with 70-80 sensors each that tell safety engineers exactly how much and what kind of forces they endure during crash tests.

GM provided a look into its lab as it sought to promote the safety features of the 2011 Buick Regal. This kind of safety research doesn’t come cheap. GM says the price tag for the most sophisticated dummy can approach $500,000.

The ATD lab is run by GM safety engineer and Technical Fellow Jack Jensen. “We design these test dummies so that they mimic real life,” he said in a GM news release. “Data from the dummies helps us predict the risk of injury in a real crash. The more realistic the dummy, the more accurate the test results.” To better reflect reality, the dummies representing men and women range in size from what would be a large adult to a small toddler.

Engineers analyze data from physical crash tests and computer simulations to understand how a vehicle, its safety systems and occupants respond during a crash. Armed with that data, engineers continuously look for opportunities to enhance the safety of GM vehicles. “It’s very satisfying for all of us who work here in safety and crashworthiness to know that the work we’re doing is preventing injuries and saving lives on the roads,” Jensen said.

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