Robot arm to cut head injury deaths

Monday, 24 March 1997

A new robot arm designed to fire a simulated human head into car bonnets is being put through its paces at the University of Adelaide.

Researchers with the University's Road Accident Research Unit have built the robot arm ­ called a headform launcher ­ to test the impact of different makes of car on pedestrians' heads during accidents.

The headform launcher can fire a dummy head into a car bonnet at speeds of up to 70 kilometres an hour. By studying the resulting impact, scientists hope to learn more about head injuries inflicted during accidents.

The National Health and Medical Research Council, which funds the Unit, recognises road accident head injuries as one of Australia's major human health risks, costing hundreds of lives and millions of dollars every year.

Brain injuries are the leading cause of death in road accidents, and non-fatal head injuries are more costly to society than injuries to any other part of the body. However, scientists still do not fully understand what happens to the head on impact, or how badly the brain can be damaged in even minor accidents.

Over the past 15 years, Road Accident Research Unit researchers have studied in detail more than 200 fatal accidents involving pedestrians in South Australia.

Director of the Unit Dr Jack McLean says the new headform launcher is being used to reconstruct the forces involved on impact, to try to learn more about specific aspects of head impact that are the principal causes of injury to the brain.

"The new robot arm is a major step forward for our research, and is one of the few of its kind in the world," Dr McLean says.

"The information we'll gather using the headform launcher will further add to our understanding of brain damage, and will help in future planning to reduce the head injury road toll.

"Results from the Unit's head injury research could also help draw up better safety ratings for cars, and help improve the design of safety devices like seat belts, airbags and crash helmets," he says.

The first trials of the new headform launcher have been commissioned by the Federal Office of Road Safety, examining the impact of a simulated pedestrian head with the bonnet of a current-model GMH Commodore and a Ford Falcon.

 

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