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Mid-America Transportation Center

Bio-Inspired Reusable Crash Cushions with Superior Energy-Absorbing Capacity


University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Principal Investigator
Congrui Jin
PI Contact Information
Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided
USDOT: $109,221
UNL: $109,221
Total Project Cost
$ 218,442
Agency ID or Contract Number
Start Date
End Date
Research Objective
The objective of this project is to design lightweight reusable crash cushions with superior energy-absorbing capacity. To accomplish the objective, a series of structural and mechanical tests are performed on natural structures to elucidate the mechanisms underlying their superior mechanical properties; numerical simulation is performed to identify the main design parameters, and a multi-objective optimization is conducted to optimize its energy absorption characteristics and comprehensive crashworthiness; the optimized design is fabricated by 3D printing; and an experimental campaign is conducted to test the 3D printed crash cushions.
Potential Benefits
An innovative design of reusable crash cushion will be achieved, which demonstrates increased energy absorption and impact resistance with reduced self-weight. Although this project is focusing on the design of crash cushions, the developed energy-absorbing structures are useful for other applications where materials are prone to impact damages, such as other types of traffic barriers, exterior bridge girders, bridge piers, earthquake-resistant structures, and packaging materials to store hazardous goods during transportation, such as lithium-ion batteries.
Brief Description of Research Project
Crash cushions are used as a roadside safety treatment alternative to protect errant vehicles from striking potentially hazardous fixed roadside objects by absorbing the kinetic energy of the vehicles. A bio-inspired approach is used in this study to design lightweight reusable crash cushions with superior energy-absorbing capacity. Three biological role models, i.e., coconut endocarp, sea urchin spines, and bovid horns, are picked out from nature due to their low density, high strength, and remarkable impact-resistant and energy-absorbing capacities. Then, a comprehensive structural and mechanical analysis is conducted on the natural structures to understand the mechanisms underlying their superior mechanical properties. Finally, the identified structural characteristics are transferred from the biological structures to the structure of the crash cushions.
Describe Implementation of Research Outcomes
Impacts/Benefits of Implementation
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Modal Orientation
  • Bridges