IndyCar safety harnesses MEMS

This weekend’s Indy 500 (May 27) could be one of the safest in U.S. auto racing history by combining 200-mph race cars with emerging MEMS technologies.

Along with new safety features created by IndyCar engineers, MEMS sensors like the three high-G accelerometers inside each driver’s earpiece will be used to detect concussions. The same high-G sensors may eventually be used by NASA to protect astronauts from hard splashdowns.

"We build from scratch all of the drivers earpieces, which plug into the ear canal," said IndyCar engineering director Jeff Horton. "In the event of a crash, Analog Device's accelerometers measure all the concussive forces exerted on the drivers head throughout the accident."

IndyCars are now equipped to stream data from three high-G accelerometers into black-box accident recorders looping through a 90-second memory. In an accident, the system shuts down on impact. After a crash, accelerometer data from 30 seconds before and 60 seconds after impact are correlated with head injuries. Accident data can then be used to improve IndyCar cockpit safety.

Jeff Horton, IndyCar engineering director, designs MEMS sensor earpieces at his work bench at the race track.

"IndyCar already has samples of our new three-axis high-G accelerometer on a single chip, which it plans to have ready for use in IndyCars later this year," said Wayne Meyer, ADI’s MEMS marketing and applications manager for MEMS. "The new ADXL377 is also small enough to be used by other sports besides racing."

Accidents that result in injuries are reconstructed with the help of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Biomechanics Research Center. Using the center’s crash dummy named “Thor", which is equipped with 15 high-G accelerometers, including nine in the head, IndyCar engineers can recreate crash injuries.

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