How Gaming Technology Is Making Cars Safer

Video game aficionados have frequently espoused the positive influences of game technology and design on our culture. Although parents groups and youth sports organizations have long derided video games, there’s no denying that children who play video games show improved hand-eye coordination, better problem-solving skills, and determination to complete any task put before them. But the usefulness of video game technology doesn’t stop there. Researchers from the University of Michigan, within the Transportation Research Institute, are discovering how the technology used in modern video game design could end up making us safer on the roads.

According to Matt Reed, the head of the Biosciences Group for the UMTRI, the digital scanners that are employed by video game designers to create human-like avatars can be repurposed to improve the way the automotive industry runs its crash test programs. Reed’s tests involve using a $220 scanner to record information about the depth of the human body, in order to create a wide variety of body shapes that can be used to run virtual crash tests, improving our understanding of the true level of safety of the vehicles on our streets.

Traditional crash tests are generally only run twice in real time. The dummies are incredibly expensive, running from around $50,000 for the standard model up to well over six figures for dummies packed with sensor technology. And beyond the expense, the scope of the testing is also an issue. The crash test dummies are built to resemble a standard male and female body. They don’t take into consideration the wide range of variables, including age, height, and weight. The issues our senior citizens face, or the true safety of our young children are not taken into consideration.

The computer simulated crash tests can expand the already significant data set available to car manufacturers, so they can plan for issues facing the entire population, and not just the average-sized citizen. The information they gather will be used to take a deeper look at how newer cars are designed, as well as to make minor adjustments to seatbelt and airbag technology that could make a massive difference. As more than 30,000 Americans were killed in car crashes last year, there’s no better time than the present to bring every technological advancement to bear.

Actually, this isn’t the first time this type of gaming technology has been used in a wider application. Back in the ’90s, a project run by the United States Air Force scanned participants in three distinct postures. They called it 3D anthropometry. But according to Reed, the results were incredibly limited, and the body types they scanned were too similar. He also suggests that it’s well beyond time that we turn our attention back to children’s safety. The last major study of the impact of crashes on children occurred in the 1970’s. With obesity and diabetes now national issues, it’s clear that data no longer applies.

While standard crash tests will always be a necessary part of understanding vehicle safety, these new tools will better protect the entire population. Just as websites like have greatly altered how we shop for car insurance, the digital scanning technology from video games will continue to improve our life from here on out.