Did you know a single test dummy can cost $1.3 million? Neither did we. Here’s what else we found out…
Higashi-Fuji, Japan — Crash tests. They’re just an excuse for engineers to smash things to see what happens, right? Well, yes.
But they’re also a fascinating part of a carmaker’s work that has yielded concrete, life-saving results — Toyota says traffic fatalities crept up in Japan during the 1980s as the vehicle population climbed, only to fall again once stricter crash test standards were introduced.
When Toyota let us into its high-security Higashi-Fuji Test Center to watch them smash a new Prius, we learnt a whole bunch of interesting things. Namely:
They’re more violent than necessary
Well, sometimes, anyway. Existing standards call for a 64km/h crash, but Toyota now does its own 90km/h smash. Why? Because engineers wanted to “level up” their procedure, says Seigo Kuzumaki, the assistant chief of Toyota’s safety tech office. Nice.
They sound like a bomb going off
There’s a huge crunch of metal and glass as the test rig collides with the car, but a split-second later an even louder sound hits your ears: the deafening explosion of the airbags going off.
It literally sounds like a bomb blast, because that’s what it is.
A crash test dummy costs S$1.3m apiece
Yep, you read that right: $1.3 freakin’ million. That’s the price for the most expensive THOR dummy, made by Humanetics. It’s designed to measure side impact forces. The more common HYBRID III dummy costs “only” 18 million Yen, or about S$237,000.
The technical centre we visited has 80 dummies, including 15 of the expensive THOR ones. That’s too much money for dummies like us to imagine.
Some carmakers smash more than one new car every day
At least, the big ones do. Toyota told us they destroy four new vehicles a day on average, at technical centres around the world. Kinda heart-breaking, but kinda comforting to know.
There are dead bodies involved
Not actual ones (although carmakers did use cadavers in the past), but virtual ones. Toyota modeled human bodies using data from cadaver testing to create THUMS (Total HUman Model for Safety).
Basically, THUMS is a piece of software that lets researchers conduct virtual crash tests on virtual people, including a pregnant woman, complete with foetus. Slightly creepy, but it’s apparently so good that 24 other carmakers licence THUMS from Toyota.