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Vehicle Safety and Driver Assist Technologies

Occupant Protection Technologies

Many factors influence a vehicle’s crash performance, including the design of the vehicle’s structure (i.e., its ability to absorb impact energy) and the use of passive safety equipment such as air bags to supplement safety belts. Ford’s commitment to advancing the state-of-the-art in vehicle safety includes research and development of technologies that further enhance occupant protection in a wide variety of crash circumstances.

Ford Technologies

Ford is using more advanced materials than ever, including ultra-high-strength steels, plastics and composites, and aluminum. Increased use of these materials helps us design vehicle structures with enhanced crash energy management while reducing overall vehicle weight – even as we add more features, equipment and safety devices. For example, the all-new Ford F-150 uses aluminum alloys extensively in its body and truck bed. In Europe, the Ford B‑MAX extensively uses high-strength steels in its body shell and doors.

Safety belts remain the most important vehicle safety technology available. Beginning with the 2011 Ford Explorer, Ford brought to market the world’s first automotive rear inflatable safety belts, which resulted in several prestigious awards for technological achievement. The rear inflatable safety belts combine the attributes of traditional safety belt and air bag technologies to help further reduce the risk of head, neck and chest injuries for rear-seat passengers. In everyday use, the inflatable belts operate like conventional safety belts and are safe and compatible with infant and child safety car and booster seats. Rear-seat inflatable safety belts are available on selected vehicles in North America.

Vision for the Future

Ford has a long history of research into passive safety, or helping protect occupants in the event of crash. We continue to pursue research and advanced engineering in passive safety, and we participate in and sponsor passive safety research at colleges and universities, in addition to internal projects. Also, we publish our major research findings on this topic in peer-reviewed and other scientific journals.

Collaborative Research

Ford continues to collaborate with other automotive companies on precompetitive safety projects to enhance the safety of the driving experience and develop future technologies.

U.S. Council for Automotive Research

For example, we collaborate with General Motors and Chrysler through the various safety-related working groups, committees and councils of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR). These include the Safety Technical Leadership Council (Safety TLC), the Occupant Safety Research Partnership (OSRP) and the Crash Safety Working Group (CSWG).

The OSRP performs research, development, testing and evaluation on anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs), commonly known as crash test dummies. Projects planned for 2014 include evaluation of new child ATDs, continued work on a new adult, side-impact ATD, evaluation of a new pedestrian leg form, and evaluation of a new average male ATD, called THOR, developed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The OSRP evaluations provide a measure of repeatability, reproducibility, biofidelity, usability and durability. The evaluations are meant to ensure that new ATDs are truly scientific instruments capable of simulating the responses of human occupants in crashes.

The CSWG conducts and directs precompetitive research on crash-related safety issues, with a current focus on issues associated with aspects of advanced, alternate-fueled, energy-efficient vehicles. In 2013, the working group completed the development of crash-test procedures for live lithium-ion battery testing collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories. The working group also wrote a technical paper entitled “Idealized Vehicle Crash Test Pulses for Advanced Batteries” that was subsequently accepted for publication by SAE International. The CSWG has begun work on a new exploratory project aimed at developing new modeling capabilities to address current voids in crash simulation of advanced lightweight materials. This project should be an enabler for USCAR members in their development of advanced lightweight vehicles.

National Science Foundation’s Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies

Ford continues to support research at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania. CChIPS is an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. Participants include seven automotive companies, NHTSA, Consumer Reports, automotive suppliers, child-seat manufacturers, insurance companies and a crash-test dummy manufacturer.

In addition to helping fund the work, Ford scientists and engineers help to select the research projects pursued by CChIPS researchers each year and even serve as mentors for projects that need automakers’ vehicle safety expertise. Current projects include, among others, a study to explore ways to provide real-time, in-vehicle, positive reinforcement of appropriate teen driving behaviors; a study to develop a better understanding of pediatric brain injury in automobile crashes; and a study to compare child crash dummies to pediatric volunteer subjects in low-speed crash simulations.

University Partnerships

Ford collaborates with university partners on a broad array of research projects, including research into advanced safety technologies, and has more than 130 active projects globally. In recent years, we have fine-tuned the objectives of our grant-providing University Research Program (URP), moving away from pure exploratory and long-term research and toward highly collaborative projects focused on innovations with more near- and mid-term implementation potential. We have also substantially expanded activity with our strategic alliance partner schools: the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and RWTH Aachen University.

In 2013, Ford awarded 28 new URP grants to 19 universities around the globe. Recipient schools in the United States included Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Washington State University, Pennsylvania State University, Central Michigan University and Northeastern University. In Europe, new URP grants were awarded to RWTH Aachen University and Koc University. In the Asia Pacific region, grants were awarded to Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Tsinghua University, Beijing Institute of Technology, Zhejiang University, Chongqing University in China; University of Melbourne and Deakin University in Australia; and India Institute of Technology Madras in India. Our recently unveiled Automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicles have been collaboratively developed in partnership with the University of Michigan with supporting projects at MIT and Stanford. In 2014, we expect to substantially increase our collaborative university activities globally with significant new projects in safety and sustainability.

The following are specific examples of current safety-related projects sponsored by Ford’s Global Research and Advanced Engineering Organization:

  • Wayne State University’s Bioengineering Department is evaluating surrogates for child lateral impact crash testing. Child crash-test dummies for side impact evaluation of vehicles are a recent development. Their designs are based on scaling from adults, but children have unique biomechanical properties and are not just small adults. This project seeks to understand how the new child crash-test dummies perform in simulated side impact crashes and how to improve their design.
  • The University of Michigan is working on the performance characterization and modeling of lithium-ion batteries subjected to deformation under crash loading, as well as the development of multiphysics modeling capability to include mechanical, thermal and electrical effects.
  • RWTH Aachen University is working on the development of advanced crash simulation methodology. This research seeks new methods to predict and accurately assess the crash performance of vehicle structures made with advanced materials.
  • Tianjin University of Science and Technology is helping Ford to develop the world’s first human body mathematical model of a six-year-old child. Data from CT scans of a representative six-year-old child were used to determine the physical geometry of the skeleton and internal organs. This data was then used to develop a mathematical representation in the virtual world of a human six-year-old child. When completed, this model may help Ford scientists and engineers better understand how injury to children occurs in vehicle crashes and research ways to reduce risk of injury to children in those crashes.