Ford is undertaking a number of research efforts to assess and verify the effectiveness of new active safety technologies, such as those using forward-looking radar and vision sensors. (Research regarding vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technologies is discussed in the “intelligent vehicles” case study.)

In January 2010, a consortium of 29 partners – led by the Ford European Research Center in Aachen, Germany – joined forces in the Accident Avoidance by Active Intervention of Intelligent Vehicles (interactIVe) European research project. The consortium seeks to support the development and implementation of active safety systems, and consists of seven automotive manufacturers, six suppliers, 14 research institutes and three other stakeholders. The European Commission will cover more than half of the €30 million budget.

During the planned 42-month duration of interactIVe, the partners will test the performance of implemented safety systems through active intervention, including autonomous braking and steering in critical situations, with the aim of avoiding collisions or at least mitigating impact severity in accidents.

In 2008, Ford launched a major European research project (called EuroFOT) to deliver a large-scale field operational test of the real-world impact of active safety systems. Under the EU’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7) for research and technological development, this project joins together 28 partners – including vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, universities and research centers – and will run until August 2011. More than 1,500 cars and trucks will be equipped with eight new active safety technologies, along with advanced data-collection capabilities. This will allow a thorough evaluation of the new technologies for safety, efficiency and driver comfort, in real-world scenarios and with ordinary drivers. The project has a total budget of €22 million and is led by the Ford research center in Aachen, Germany. It includes 100 Ford vehicles.

In another area of research, Ford announced in March 2011 that we launched research aimed to create one of the world’s first digital human body models of a child. The model could someday serve as a digital “dummy” for computer crash testing. A child’s body is very different from an adult’s, and building a digital human body model of a child will help Ford design future systems that offer better protection for our young passengers.

Digital models are painstakingly detailed; Ford’s current adult digital human body model took more than a decade to create. It was also one of the first full human body digital models ever created. It contains digital representations of the human body, the skeleton and the internal organs in great detail. In addition to the geometrical information, the Ford adult human body model includes accurate mechanical properties, so that in “virtual” or simulated crashes it deforms like a real human would in a real crash. The model has been extensively validated by comparing its response in simulated tests to data from publicly available data in the scientific literature.

Such models are used in research, not vehicle development. They do not take the place of crash dummies, which measure the effects of forces on the body, but instead are used to better understand injury mechanisms, so as to further improve restraint system effectiveness.

For the new digital human body model of a child, Ford researchers have contracted with Tianjin University of Science and Technology and Tianjin Children’s Hospital to obtain child geometry and basic body information from sources like MRIs and CT scans provided by volunteers. Most other information for the project will be obtained from public domain literature.

Finally, a particularly creative research technique Ford has been using involves driving cars with Collision Warning with Brake Support into large “balloons” nearly the size and shape of real cars. The purpose of these tests is to assess the accuracy of the radar and the timing of the warning signals and braking pre-charge. The balloons play the role of a “target” vehicle, allowing Ford engineers to assess the radar and braking features without endangering test drivers or damaging real cars. The balloons offer enough “give” to allow impact without injury. Ford uses about a dozen balloon cars in different sizes, each made from tarp-like material and weighing more than 40 pounds.