Alan Vaughan Thomas – Working to improve pedestrian safety

Diagram: Patent – early defromable hinge concept

The automotive industry is vast, and the teams engaged in any innovation are usually extensive – it is difficult to know where they end. Alan, a 1970 Automotive Engineering and Design alumnus and member of the Alumni Advisory Board, worked on many innovative projects during his career, one of which was the Jaguar pop-up bonnet. Here Alan tells us more.

A team of people spent approximately 130 full-time-equivalent years on this research and development effort which set out to improve pedestrian safety. Following research at crash sites, simulated crashes, and huge amounts of testing, the pop-up bonnet came into use in 2007, designed to reduce the severity of injuries in collisions between vehicles and pedestrians.

In short, the design softens the impact upon collision, mitigating injuries.

This is only one thread in my career, but it is not exceptional in the automotive industry, nor among alumni. I have worked mostly in research and advanced engineering departments on some of the most exciting and challenging developments – but can only take a little of the credit.

Much of my career has centred on human and vehicle bodies in contact or conflict, particularly for British Leyland, Volvo, GM, Jaguar, Ford, and Jaguar Land Rover.

In 1988 I joined Jaguar Cars as Principal Engineer, Advanced Body Technology and was tasked with assembling a team of 6-8 engineers.

After a few months we took our own and external research to the Body Engineering Department. Jaguars had big powerful engines with lots of ancillary systems packed under a bonnet as low and elegant as possible, leaving little room for cushioning the impact. We suggested that we pop up the bonnet when colliding with a pedestrian to give the extra clearance.

The team worked with colleagues to sketch out ideas for bonnet adaptations, to reduce impact upon collision with a pedestrian.

The bonnets of the outgoing Series III Jaguar XJ and the planned XJ90 were hinged just above the bumper and swung upwards and forwards with the grille and inner headlamps, but the front ‘face’ also needed to deflect backwards to reduce the impact on legs and hips.

I realised that changing to a hinge about 30-40cm above the bonnet would allow the grille area to be pushed backwards by the impact, absorbing energy from the leg and hip, and the top of the bonnet would rise as it rotated about the hinge to provide ride-down clearance.

We modified an XJ SIII body shell and fitted adjustable linkages to run an experimental matrix of different positions and lengths, working with a crash test dummy pelvis swung on a long chain; it worked correctly the very first time.

The system was patented in 1991, but we realised more research was needed to simulate non-standard postures and non-average body types. A multi-disciplinary cross-departmental team was set up. Existing impact test rigs were upgraded together with our best guess at emerging proposals for legal test devices.  

Establishing the missing link

By this time Jaguar was already owned by Ford and we had teamed up with their research, engineering, and regulations experts. Meanwhile, the XJ90 had been cancelled, and the impact-energised bonnet configuration wasn’t compatible with the next generation of Jaguars.

From 1987, the Advanced Engineering Group had included a larger group working on telematics and radar, infra-red, ultra-violet and visible-spectrum sensors for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and automated driving. I got myself involved in their pedestrian detection and avoidance research and was also talking to Autoliv.   

Besides being made global leader of Ford’s Pedestrian Safety effort, I was the technical representative in Westminster for the UK motor industry, and in Brussels and Tokyo for the European industry. I was also seconded to lead the pedestrian safety research at the Ford Research Centre in Aachen part time, whilst maintaining a presence in Brussels, and continuing other engineering work in Coventry.

This network enabled me to get funding for a strategic missing link: real world case data on vehicle and pedestrian behaviour before, during and trajectory of the pedestrian over and away from the vehicle after collision; and vehicle contact locations and damage, including injury causation and consequences.

Working with the Cooperative Crash Injury Study (CCIS), which was run by Loughborough’s former Vehicle Safety Research Centre, we were able to pilot new ways of working with the emergency services, to gather evidence before it was removed or lost, in the “On the Scene Accident Investigation” project.

This was later developed into the “On the Spot” research funded by the UK’s Department for Transport.

Evidence gathered highlighted further research areas for us to work on.

Jaguar and Peugeot continued to work separately with Autoliv on sensing and actuation of pop-up bonnets. They launched production versions almost simultaneously in 2007, with the Jaguar XK version winning the Prince Michael International Safety Award.

What next?

These and other deployment devices are now used on a considerable number of vehicle models.

After retiring from Jaguar and setting up a consultancy, CAVT, on the Loughborough University Science and Enterprise Park, my first contract was with Nissan Technical Centre Europe. I assisted in testing the Infiniti Q50 for sale in Europe under EU safety regulations, and for the coveted EuroNCAP safety star ratings including pedestrian protection and, yes, its Autoliv pop-up bonnet.  

Throughout my career, I have been proud to apply my Loughborough education, maintaining strong ties with the University and many academics and researchers, and fellow alumni along the way. Special mention to John Cady (BTech Automotive Engineering and Design 1969), David Periam (BTech Automotive Engineering and Design 1984), Bradley Staines (MSc Advanced Automotive Engineering 1997), Steve Fisher (City University), Mark Howard (Hatfield Polytechnic, Cranfield PhD), and Bill McLundie (Glasgow University, Cranfield PhD).