Of four new research projects announced today by Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center, two include the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. And just a few days ago, the Brain Trauma Foundation honored the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University biomedical program with its 2011 Brain Trauma Foundation Award. Toyota funded some of the research that led to this award.

“We are confident our research advancements will help reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries in both automobile impacts as well as on the football field,” said Stefan Duma, professor and head of the biomedical engineering program for Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University. “We are grateful to Toyota for its support of this important, lifesaving research and to the Brain Trauma Foundation for its recognition.”

Toyota launched its research safety center in January 2011 with an initial investment of $50 million. This center pursues automotive safety research through a collaborative model that prioritizes sharing Toyota’s talent and technology with a broad range of institutions, and Virginia Tech’s biomedical program continues to receive significant support.

At Virginia Tech, one of the new Toyota projects will focus on abdominal injuries. Duma said this study will look at the relationship between age and abdominal injuries caused by automobile crashes in the United States, to determine if a specific population, such as senior drivers, is more vulnerable to abdominal injuries during these events.

The second project involving Virginia Tech is a partnership with George Washington University. Duma explained the project will upgrade a frontal impact test dummy, initially developed by the National Highway Safety Transportation Safety Administration, that allows automotive manufacturers an advanced tool to assess the injury risk of drivers and passengers in vehicles using crash tests. The dummy, named THOR, may lead to new technologies for the design of vehicles and their restraint systems.

Virginia Tech’s biomedical program has a history of work in crash mechanics. Over the past three years, the U.S. Army awarded Duma and his colleagues Warren Hardy and Clay Gabler, also biomedical engineering faculty members, over $10 million in research awards to study the biomechanics of head, neck, and chest injury.

In 2008, a group of nine international car manufacturers and suppliers awarded $4.9 million to the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Science’s Center for Injury Biomechanics, to conduct a study to produce a better understanding of what happens to individuals subjected to body trauma.

“Today’s announcements cap a successful first year for Toyota’s Collaborate Safety Research Center and our efforts to act as a catalyst for the advancement of automotive safety for the entire industry. We look forward to further expanding our talent-sharing research model and helping advance the development of safety technologies that can benefit all of society,” said Chuck Gulash, senior executive engineer at the Toyota Technical Center and the safety research center director.

Of the remaining two projects, one is with the University of Iowa to study driver behavior related to foot placement. The hope is to better quantify and predict driver-vehicle interactions to aid in the development of vehicle-based enhancements. The second one collaborates with the University of Virginia to study of the capabilities of Toyota’s THUMS modeling system in capturing the effects of complex automobile crash scenarios at the “whole body” level.

Crash modeling technologies help researchers analyze millions of data points to better understand the mechanisms that cause injuries in car crashes, which helps inform the development of new safety technologies for airbags, seatbelt systems, and vehicle body structures.

Since the CSRC was first launched, Toyota has announced 17 research projects with 12 institutions. In keeping with its open model, the safety center intends to publish as much of this research as possible to make it available to federal agencies, the industry and academia.

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