A day in the life of a crash test dummy at the Volvo Car Safety Centre

We take road safety for granted most of the time, expecting the cars we drive to protect us on the way to work, a visit to our parents or merely to a quick trip to the supermarket, but before the car even gets on the road it has pass a number of stringent tests in a crash test centre. On the eve of the 10th anniversary of Volvo's crash test centre in Sweden we spoke to Thor, one of 100 crash test dummies that work at the site to find out what a regular day's work means for him:

9:30am

It's a bright and breezy morning in Goteborg and today the missus, I, and the little one are getting ready for another crash simulation at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre.

I should probably introduce myself, I'm Thor, the latest generation of crash test dummies and one that is suited for high speed crashes to see how a human, like yourself, would respond to an environment that you don't really want to be in.

Made from a metal skeleton and then covered in rubber, I weigh 78kg and modelled on the average man. I'm not yet an official global standard, however I'm used by Volvo for most of its testing as I'm better than the current incumbent, Mr Hybrid 3. Don't get me wrong I like the guy, but he's just not as sophisticated as me, not as nimble and basically not as good. My upper body, for example, is so much better offering those that monitor the tests more human like behaviour. Funnier still at a range of sizes up to 101kg to represent the "larger" man he could do with losing some weight.

Eventually, just as I will replace Hybrid 3, another model with even more sophistication will replace me. Experts say that means a greater emphasis on soft tissue to see laceration impacts and a stronger focus on the head and how it copes in a range of crash environments.

When it's not Hybrid 3 filling in, Biorid (where do they come up with these names) steps up, but he's only really suitable for low speed crashes so they can check out this neck in greater detail.

In fact there are around 100 of us crash-test dummies at the centre: thin men, fat men, women, pregnant women, and children of different sizes and ages, and together we are working to the ultimate goal that "nobody should die or suffer serious injuries in a new Volvo car by the year 2020".

Enough about me let me tell you a bit about where I work.

The Volvo Car Safety Centre, which has been active for 10 years, carries out around 400 tests a year in a range of vehicles from cars to trucks. Each one costs around £26,000 to run, and tests a number of things depending on what they are looking for.

Today, for example, we are re-enacting a real-life crash that happened in October last year between two Volvo V70 cars. Exciting.

10:15am

We are starting to get ready for the crash simulation. While most of the time they are done on the computer, in fact thousands of tests are before they even get to the crash centre, there is still a need for live testing.

Volvo use a purpose-built crash centre that allows me, the family, and a number of my colleagues to be thrown into a series of different scenarios. Smashing into a wall, other vehicles, head-on, at an angle, rolled, into a ditch and so much more. It's tough work but someone has to do it.

The crash-test laboratory has one fixed (154 metre) and one movable (108 metre) test track. The movable test track can be moved from 0 to 90 degrees to perform crashes such as frontal impacts, rear end collisions, side impacts, and collisions between two moving cars at different angles and speeds.

The fixed track will fire any car or truck I am in up to speeds of 120 kmph, whilst on the moveable track it's around 80 kmph. Cars can be shot towards each other or out of the building. And everything is measured and recorded by a number of cameras above, to the side, and even below.

At the end of the movable track, the surrounding landscape serves as an integrated part of the crash-test laboratory, while back inside there is a massive crash block that weighs 850 tonnes. It is moved around with the help of air cushions. In addition, there are around 20 other fixed and movable barriers covering various official test requirements.

11:01am

It's almost time for the crash. Goodie. As I said earlier today we are re-enacting a crash that happened on the 13 October 2009 at 5:15 between a 1997 Volvo V70 and a 2009 Volvo V70. The 1997 V70 had two passengers, a 42-year-old man and his 20-year-old son, while my car had myself, my wife and our 1-year-old kid in the back. Driving happily along the road, the older V70 didn't take a bend and ploughed front on into our car.

Thankfully no one was killed, but damn re-enacting is going to be a rush as the speeds were around 60kmph.

11:11am

We've been strapped in, the cars have been loaded up and are ready to roll. The final thing I've got to do is put on my make-up.

What? A man wearing make-up? Yeah I know what you are thinking, but I put lipstick on my eyebrows, nose and lips so when my face hits the air bag the rest of the team can see exactly where the impact is.

11:15am

The final tests have been carried out and the lights are about to go out. It's not that we are trying to replicate the lighting conditions, but it provides the maximum amount of direct light on the crash area to capture with the cameras. There are normally 10 to 13 cameras pointing on the scene shooting from above, from below, in a big pit and from the sides.

At the point where the two test tracks meet, there is a 6-metre deep, Plexiglas-covered pit for filming crash tests from below. The cameras that film the tests from above are installed in a rig 11 metres above the point of impact.

The cameras shoot Full HD quality footage at up to 2000 frames per second.

"The degree of precision in a test in which two moving cars collide at 50 km/h is 2.5 centimetres. This corresponds to two thousandths of a second. By way of comparison, a blink of the human eye takes about 60 thousandths of a second. This says a whole lot about the laboratory's precision", says my boss Thomas Broberg, senior safety advisor at Volvo Cars.

That gives the rest of the team a perfect chance to see me getting bashed about as I smash into other cars, walls or various objects.

11:16am

If I had a heart it would be pounding by now I am sure. We get the green light and then there is a countdown from 20 seconds to ignition. Huge motors pump into action sending the car I am in hurtling to its final destination.

It's like sitting in a rollercoaster. The motor will take us so far and then the rest is down to the car. Thankfully we don't just fill the car with petrol and send us on our merry way to a fiery end - that really would hurt.

11:16:30am

Ouch that really hurt. As everyone survived in real life, its not too bad, but I think I might need a new hand.

I cost around $175,000 but luckily virtually all of my body parts are replaceable. That means that over the course of my 2-year life I'll probably have most of my parts swapped out, but hey it's only the same as getting a hip replacement.

11:20am

The sweep-up team is on the job cleaning up the mess of the crash and I just get to sit back and relax until the next job.

Sometimes that can mean straight away, while other times I get to sit on the bench for a couple of days. But while I am resting on my laurels, the team has the arduous job of analysing the data collected and seeing how they can make the cars even safer than before.

11:30am

My job here is done. It's time to head back to the store room and wait for the next crash.



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