Biomechanics in Autonomous Vehicles: A Pilot Study to Explore Responses of Pediatric Occupants in Non-traditional Seating Conditions

Principal Investigator: Jalaj Maheshwari, MS, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


Highly automated vehicle (HAV) technology is advancing rapidly with the promise of reducing injuries and deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes. A future vehicle with complete autonomy and minimal human intervention could allow drivers to engage in other activities, such as working, reading, or conversing with others in the vehicle. This sounds great, but what happens when these HAVs are involved in a crash or near-crash? We still need systems that protect occupants should a crash or swerve occur.


With this project we analyzed how crashes with HAV seating scenarios could impact the pediatric occupant. Since proposed HAV seating concepts have swiveling and reclining seat structures, we used computational modeling to explore two swiveled and reclined seating conditions in frontal crashes. A frontal impact in a traditional seat becomes a rear impact for the occupant that is swiveled around.

We used the PIPER six-year-old human model as the pediatric occupant model. The Position and Personalize Advanced Human Body Models for Injury Prediction (PIPER) were developed by the PIPER EU Consortium. The child model is scalable through a dedicated module within the PIPER application and has been extensively validated with experimental data from scientific literature.


The invention of HAVs brings new challenges to researchers. As an engineer, I wanted to meet the challenge of helping auto manufacturers design safety systems and vehicles that can protect occupants inside HAVs.


After testing the swiveling condition with two different recline angles for a traditional low-back booster seat, we found that across all rearward facing frontal impact simulations (i.e., front passenger vehicle seat swiveled around to face rearward), the child rides along the seat recline during the impact. This causes an asymmetrical rotation of the child’s torso about the 3-point lap-shoulder belt. These kinematics should be explored further to understand their implications.


The qualitative assessment of the kinematics in the crashes studied in this pilot study pave the way to conduct additional research in HAV crash scenarios to provide optimal protection to occupants. After studying the impact of a HAV crash on a single pediatric occupant in two seating configurations, moving forward we believe it is important to simulate more conditions, more seating positions, and more recline angles, as well as more occupants inside the vehicle, to provide the foundation for optimal safety in crash scenarios that might come with HAVs.

IAB Mentors

Jerry Wang, Humanetics Innovative Solutions Inc.; Jason Stammen, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Mark Neal, General Motors Holdings LLC; Suzanne Johansson, General Motors Holdings LLC; Russ Davidson, Lear Corporation; Julie Kleinert, Technical Advisor; Uwe Meissner, Technical Advisor