Motor City Warriors

Wayne State University is proud to drive innovation from our hometown in Detroit, the birthplace of the automotive industry. Our researchers have made major advancements to air bag, seat belt, steering wheel and dashboard technology, and our alumni have gone on to become chief engineers of iconic vehicles such as the Dodge Ram, Chevrolet Corvette and the Buick LaCrosse. Always looking ahead, Warriors in our College of Engineering (home to the nation’s first electric-drive vehicle program) continue to make monumental moves in the Motor City — and beyond. 

Setting the standard

Living proof

The late researcher, professor and director of Wayne State’s Biomechanics Research Center Lawrence Patrick (Engin. ’44, M.Engin. ’55) didn’t invent the crash test dummy — he was the crash test dummy. 

Indeed, in the early years of auto safety research, Patrick subjected his body to impacts at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. The data from his tests were eventually used to help design humanoid crash test dummies. 

Data from Lawrence Patrick’s crash tests was ultimately used to help design humanoid crash test dummies. 

That’s not all. To oversee his crash tests, Patrick hired engineering student Harold J. “Bud” Mertz (Engin. ’63, Ph.D. ’67), who needed money to pay for college. Mertz used the test results for his thesis and later joined General Motors’ auto safety research effort. When GM set out to create a revolutionary new crash test dummy, Mertz led the team that invented it.

The Hybrid III dummy made its debut in 1976. With periodic improvements, it has been used for auto research around the world ever since. Research done with the Hybrid III has revolutionized car safety, leading to the air bag, improved seat belts and new crash restraint systems, along with safer seats, windshields and instrument panels. Since the introduction of the Hybrid III, traffic deaths have fallen by roughly 30 percent, even though the U.S. population has grown by nearly 100 million, according to federal data. 

International impact

Virtually everyone who rides in a motor vehicle or jet aircraft is affected by research conducted at WSU’s Bioengineering Center.

In fact, the current head injury criterion in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 is based on the Wayne State Tolerance Curve. Likewise, the new requirement by the Federal Aviation Administration to strengthen aircraft seat anchors is based on a sled impact pulse developed at WSU. 

Current research efforts include analyses of impact responses, injury tolerances and injury mechanisms of the human body from head to foot.

Wayne State’s side-impact research has also contributed to the recent design of Volvo’s side-impact air bag. In addition to supporting side-impact dummy response specifications of the International Organization for Standardization, the College of Engineering’s data indicated that the federal side-impact standard needed improvement to protect occupants, resulting in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revisiting this issue.

Current research efforts at Wayne State include analyses of impact responses, injury tolerances and injury mechanisms of the human body from head to foot. One example is a human head model, which researchers have developed using finite element modeling techniques. Composed of more than 300,000 elements, this model is used to determine the threshold for concussion in American football and is being tested worldwide to better protect pedestrians and vehicular occupants. 

Blazing new trails

Taking charge

In 2010, Wayne State became the first university to launch a comprehensive electric-drive vehicle engineering curriculum. Thanks in part to a $5 million investment by the U.S. Department of Energy, and surrounded by automotive manufacturers and suppliers, students have the tools to become the next generation of automotive masterminds. 

The Hybrid Warriors are the only Michigan team that has been selected to participate in the EcoCAR 3 Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition.

One way Warriors are getting real-world, hands-on experience is through the multidisciplinary EcoCAR program. With a mission to build a fully functional hybrid electric vehicle that incorporates advanced powertrain technologies, innovations and sustainable practices, EcoCAR is inspiring, educating and training the future leaders of the automotive industry.

Known as the Hybrid Warriors, WSU’s EcoCAR team is currently competing in the EcoCAR 3 Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. The four-year competition challenges 16 North American universities to reduce the impact of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro by converting it into a hybrid electric vehicle. The Hybrid Warriors are the only Michigan team selected to participate in this prestigious competition. 

Led by Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jerry Ku, Wayne State’s EcoCAR team has been active since 2011. The team placed 10th overall at the Year One Final Competition in June 2015 and garnered accolades such as Best Baseline Waiver Award, Best Final Technical Report, Spirit of Project Management Award and the Ron Stence Spirit of the Challenge Award.

“EcoCAR is really the best experience you’ll have while in school,” said Ali Hussein, a project manager with the team and a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “You can learn a lot from a book, but having a way to actually apply lessons like this is a fantastic opportunity.” 

Supply and demand

In fall 2017, the Mike Ilitch School of Business introduced the executive master of science degree in automotive supply chain management. The 31-credit program covers finance, information systems, purchasing, production control, lean management, constraints management, sustainability, risk management, logistics and quality control.

“Most existing graduate supply chain programs are oriented to the consumer packaged goods and retail industries,” said John C. Taylor, chair of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management. “The auto industry requires very different training because the vehicle industry is one of the most high-tech, high-value and global industries in the world, where a combination of purchasing, production planning, logistics and quality functions must work together to achieve success in a very ‘lean’ environment.”

“The auto industry is one of the most high-tech, high-value and global industries, where a combination of purchasing, production planning, logistics and quality functions must work together.” — John C. Taylor

The discipline of supply chain management has experienced significant growth in recent years. Michigan is home to three major automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), 12 OEM assembly plants and 35 OEM component plants. Additionally, 61 of the top 100 automotive suppliers in the world are headquartered in Michigan, and there are nearly 1,300 automotive-related manufacturing establishments in the state. 

Beyond formal classroom education, automotive supply chain management students benefit from the Ilitch School's strong connections to Detroit auto companies and with the Automotive Industry Action Group, whose members include leading companies throughout the vehicle industry. 

“The program will help us continue to build relationships across the auto industry both locally and globally while making us the go-to school for automotive-related research and education,” said Professor Sachin Modi, who led its development.

A clear message

The stationary vehicle in the driving simulator lab has a state-of-the-art data collection system that allows researchers and industry leaders to develop new products and practices that reduce injuries and fatalities.

Distracted driving is a significant factor in motor vehicle accidents and fatalities, with texting playing a key role. Now, researchers at Wayne State’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences are taking a closer look at texting while driving — within the safe confines of a 2001 full-size sedan.

Using a state-of-the-art data collection system, the stationary vehicle in the driving simulator lab helps researchers and industry leaders develop new products and practices to reduce injuries and fatalities. The interior of the driving simulator boasts a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, ignition switch, rear and side-view mirrors, headlights, gearshift, and turn signals. The simulator’s software enables researchers to not only create a variety of scenarios, but also manipulate traffic volume, lighting and weather conditions.

A 2015 study by Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Randall Commissaris, Director of Occupational Therapy Doreen Head and other researchers examined the influence of driver age (18 to 59 years old) and various factors on the disruptive effects of texting on simulated driving behavior. While “driving” the simulator, participants were engaged in a series of brief text conversations with a member of the research team.

The study confirmed that texting impairs driving simulator performance. Moreover, it demonstrated that for highly skilled texters, the effects of texting on driving worsen for older drivers. Given the increasing frequency of texting while driving within virtually all age groups, these data suggest that “no texting while driving” education and public service messages should be continued and expanded to target older drivers.