Crash test dummies to aid UM research

Posted Nov. 16, 2010, at 11:35 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Crash test dummies are coming to the University of Maine.

Not as students, of course, but to assist in the testing of products designed to reduce head injuries, according to a press release.

A $533,000 grant from the Maine Technology Asset Fund through the Maine Technology Institute will allow UMaine over the next year to create a Biomechanics Laboratory for Injury Reduction and Rehabilitation within the College of Engineering’s mechanical engineering department.

The Advanced Manufacturing Center on campus will undergo minor renovations to accommodate the new lab, which will help test and evaluate injury-reduction, repair and rehabilitation equipment under development by several small Maine companies.

The lab will employ a family of state-of-the-art crash test dummies for impact and vibration tests to determine which new protective materials work best in reducing head trauma. Tests will run the gamut from simple falls to sophisticated composites to protect soldiers from head wound complications due to helicopter vibration during air evacuation.

In addition, the design, development and commercialization of a robotic exoskeletal rowing machine for people with disabilities or in rehabilitation is another objective planned as part of multiple product-development partnerships between the university and private sector firms, according to Vincent Caccese, a professor of mechanical engineering and expert in structural mechanics.

“Our hope is to have laboratory where we can get ideas out into commercialization, or when someone has ideas they can come to us for some testing,” he said. “It’s a chance to use some of the knowledge and some of the concepts that we teach to develop products that are going to help people. That’s the most exciting part. If we help save one person from a severe injury then it’s worth it.”

In vibration-mitigation research, researchers also will be using the dummies on the university’s vibrating “shaking table” to test composite padding and stabilization materials designed to protect people with head wounds — caused on the battlefield, on highways or elsewhere — from further injury during evacuation, the press release said.

Another area of interest is in vibration reduction for infants during medevac transport, a project idea that originated in discussions with LifeFlight of Maine. Much of the biomechanical research planned at UMaine has not been done before, Caccese said.

UMaine co-researchers include Ashish Deshpande and Mohsen Shahinpoor of the mechanical engineering faculty, Elizabeth Depoy and Stephen Gilson of the Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies, and Richard Eason of the electrical and computer engineering faculty.

Private partners include Alba-Technic LLC of Arundel, a company that has developed fashionable, lightweight protective head gear; Wiscasset-based Rynel Inc., a manufacturer of specialty hydrophilic polyurethane foams; LifeFlight of Maine, a Bangor-based medical helicopter service; and Astos Innovations, a Newburgh nonprofit that works to improve accessibility resources.

The collaboration with Alba-Technic involves support from the Department of Veterans Affairs research center in Florida and the Division of Geriatric Medicine at UCLA.

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