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New Crash Dummy Readied for Road

April 5, 1998

BOONSBORO, Md. (AP) _ He is more sensitive, more worldly and has a way cooler name than the guy he is destined to replace.

He is Thor, the next-generation crash test dummy.

He lacks the barrel chest of Hybrid III, his 1970s-era predecessor. But Thor’s supple form, designed for international abuse, packs more than twice the sensors.

Bits and pieces of Thor are scattered about the cavernous laboratory of Gesac Inc., a small company in rural western Maryland that won a $5 million federal contract to design and build this dummy for the new millennium.

His slim aluminum hips sit on a workbench. Nearby is his rib cage, a series of black steel bands that mimic human ribs more closely than Hybrid III’s. They measure things better, too: compression, penetration and other forces a real human body would experience in a crash.

``In general, Thor has more extensive instrumentation in almost every body area,″ said Mark Haffner, manager of the Thor Advanced Frontal Crash Dummy development program for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

He said the challenge is to produce a dummy sensitive not only to today’s seat belts and air bags but also to restraint systems that might exist in the future, both in this country and around the world. The global nature of the automobile industry demands crash test dummies that fit the needs of international manufacturers, Haffner said.

Gesac president Nagarajan Rangarajan was an Indian naval officer and worked for a Washington-area engineering company before founding Gesac in the basement of his Silver Spring home in 1986. The mechanics of human injury was one of his interests.

A $570,000 Air Force contract in 1989 to study the effects of pilot ejections gave Gesac an occupant-simulation software product to sell. That helped sustain the company until it landed the five-year Thor contract in 1994, beating out a number of bigger, well-connected bidders.

The growing company, which employs 15 engineers and machinists, moved into a former raincoat-manufacturing plant in Boonsboro last January.

Rangarajan (pronounced run-gah-RAH’-jhen), 53, a stocky man with a bushy gray beard, said he views human physiology through a seaman’s eyes, seeing pumps, pipes and boilers.

``I like to look at things in the simplest possible way,″ he said.

Rangarajan said his work is about ``what happens to linked objects as they travel through space.″ And, in the case of the crash test dummy, what happens when something stops that motion.

The Hybrid III dummy, developed by General Motors researchers, reflects the design philosophy and automotive technology of its time, Rangarajan said. Shoulder belts were fairly new and the dummy’s shoulder was crude: a single piece of cast metal. Thor’s shoulder, a linkage of 10 pieces, twists and rolls more like a real joint.

Hybrid III’s chest, designed before air bags were standard equipment, can’t measure the speed of chest compression. Thor’s can, at four different points.

The medium male, first in an expected family of Thor dummies, is similar in size to its Hybrid III counterpart, 5-foot-9 and about 168 pounds. But inside the test model are 120 sensors compared with 60 in the typically equipped Hybrid III, Rangarajan said.

The dummy _ in three versions _ has been tested in eight countries during its development. The Department of Transportation will continue to test it, possibly for five years or more, before it becomes part of the federal vehicle-testing regulations, Haffner said.

``The Hybrid III is now the regulation dummy and it will be for the foreseeable future,″ he said. ``Hybrid III is a very robust dummy and I don’t want to denigrate it because it has had a very long life.″

Rangarajan said he plans to manufacture Thors _ he already has orders _ for a world market that demands about 600 new crash test dummies a year.

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