While many folks hear "Microsoft Xbox Kinect Sensor™" and think "game on!," research engineers like myself say "great research tool." This gaming sensor technology has become for us a new (albeit unorthodox) device to reshape the way we conduct naturalistic research and explore ways to make child restraint systems even safer for child occupants.
Traditionally, safety engineers evaluate the ability of a child restraint system (CRS) to protect child occupants by testing an anthropomorphic test device (ATD), or crash test dummy, in a crash test. However, most testing protocols position ATDs in ideal positions that unfortunately do not always reflect real-world scenarios. Children, of course, never stay still in their car seat. They bend forward, reach out to the side to play with their siblings, slouch or fall asleep. Quite often the seat belt or CRS harness system gets out of position, providing sub-optimal protection to the young occupant.
To better understand this phenomenon, CIRP partnered with a research team led by Dr. Judith Charlton at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia in 2012 to develop a large-scale naturalistic study of children restrained in CRS. For this observational study, two cars were instrumented in Melbourne with multiple video cameras, a recording system, and a vehicle data acquisition unit. A Kinect Sensor™ was installed just above the rearview mirror to record color and infrared images of the young occupants and log all of their movements with 3D images.
Two years later, our team, led by CIRP’s co-scientific director Dr. Kristy Arbogast, has collected over one million Kinect images that will help researchers understand how often and to what degree children move out of position, creating situations where the CRS no longer provides ideal protection. We have focused on the 3D position of the head and identified the “extreme motion” situations in which young passengers' positions may leave them less than ideally protected.
As part of this research program, sled tests will be conducted at Autoliv Research in Sweden by the CIRP research team and their Monash University and Chalmers University (SAFER) partners to evaluate the potential injuries that can result from a crash when the child is in one of the positions observed in the naturalistic study.
Using the Kinect motion sensor in this study was critical as it enabled researchers to collect precise information on children’s movements in the back seat. The use of this sensor has opened new doors for injury prevention research, from better understanding how children are positioned in vehicles to creating a “virtual surrogate” of a rear-facing CRS to aid vehicle and CRS manufacturers. The shared goal of these lines of research? To further advance the safety of child restraints to optimally protect our youngest motor vehicle occupants.