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Ford Helping Virginia Tech, Wake Forest Develop ‘Pregnant’ Crash Test Computer Model For Virtual Testing


* Ford Motor Company, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are completing a three-year research project to gather data in support of future development of a computer-aided model of a pregnant woman for virtual crash test simulations
* The model being developed could help Ford safety researchers better understand how crash forces affect pregnant women
* The “pregnant” crash test model would add to Ford’s use of computerized adult test models in safety research. Computer models show how skeletal structures, internal organs and even the brain are affected by crash forces
* Starting in 2010, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models will include owner’s guide information and instructions specifically to help pregnant women buckle up properly

DEARBORN, Mich., – Ford Motor Company is working with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University researchers in the development of a computer-aided model that could be used to measure how crash forces affect pregnant women.

The effort builds on 15 years of Ford research that helped lead to one of the first adult whole body computerized crash models. These virtual crash models combine advanced computer simulations and medical research to virtually test how the human body – including the skeletal structure, internal organs and even the brain – are affected by crash forces.

The nearly complete three-year Ford-funded research project is now expected to provide Ford’s safety researchers with important data about pregnant women and their developing babies, such as abdominal shape and tissue properties. The data, collected by the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering, will help in the continuing development of the realistic “pregnant” human body model for virtual crash test simulation.

Dr. Stefan Duma, head of Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering, cites the project as a good example of collaboration: “This is another example of how industry and academia can work together to conduct important safety research.”

“Traditional crash dummies are very important, but the computerized human models allow us to see underneath the skin inside the body during a crash,” said Dr. Stephen Rouhana, senior technical leader, Ford Passive Safety Research and Advanced Engineering. “Not all virtual models are the same. We chose to work with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest because we believe they better understand the biomechanics of pregnant women and could translate that into effective computer crash test models.”

The human body model advantage
Computerized human body models, which simulate human beings in minute detail, are designed to help safety researchers better understand crash-related injuries. Ford’s research in this area, which has been ongoing for more than 15 years, already has led to the creation of adult models of a seated and standing average-size male. Dr. Jesse Ruan, passive safety expert in Ford’s Research and Engineering, says development of computerized models for other size vehicle occupants is under consideration.

These virtual models simulate regions of the body such as the head, neck, rib cage, abdomen, thoracic and lumbar spine, pelvis, and the upper and lower extremities, as well as the internal organs of the chest and abdomen. The models contain detailed representations of the bones and soft tissues of the human body.

“We developed new methods and techniques for this project in order to collect detailed internal pregnant geometry from MRI and CT scans, including accurate size and location of the uterus, placenta and fetus,” said Dr. Joel Stitzel, program leader and director of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University Center for Injury Biomechanics.

Development of virtual human body models also may lead to the development of more lifelike crash dummies.

Pregnant women and seat belts
Ford also is launching a new effort to continue emphasizing proper seat belt usage to help address the 170,000 car crashes a year in the United States involving pregnant women.

Starting in 2010, owner’s manuals for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury will include an explanation and graphic illustration for how pregnant women should wear seat belts – the No. 1 life-saving auto safety feature.

Pregnant women should always ride and drive with the seatback upright and the seat belt properly fastened. The lap belt, or that portion of a combination lap-and-shoulder belt, should be positioned low across the hips and worn as tight as comfort will allow. The shoulder belt should be positioned to cross the middle of the shoulder and middle of the chest.

Junell Nichols, who teaches trauma and advanced life-support courses to nurses and physicians in Longview, Texas, suggested Ford provide safety recommendations for pregnant women through – a Web site established to solicit suggestions from the public.

For additional information, see the Safety Advice Card at

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About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 200,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company’s automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford’s products, please visit

About Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering
The Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School for Biomedical Engineering and Sciences is a joint graduate research and education program that offers MS, PhD, MD/PhD, and DVM/PhD degrees. The 40 biomedical engineering faculty have active research programs in injury biomechanics as well as tissue engineering, imaging, medical physics, nano-medicine, and surgical simulation.


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