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

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. The goal of this project is to design lightweight reusable crash cushions with superior energy-absorbing capacity. A bio-inspired approach is used in this study. 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. Four tasks are carried out in this study: (1) A series of structural and mechanical tests are performed on natural structures to elucidate the mechanisms underlying their superior mechanical properties. (2) 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. (3) The optimized design is fabricated by 3D printing. (4) An experimental campaign is conducted to test the 3D printed 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 for hazardous goods transportation. This project will be investigated by two research groups with complementary expertise. The PI Prof. Congrui Jin has done extensive research in 3D printed bio-inspired designs. Her team will perform Task 1, 3 and 4. The co-PI Prof. Joshua Steelman has extensive experience in numerical and experimental study of structural responses to severe impacts. His team will contribute to Task 2.


    • English


    • Status: Active
    • Funding: $218442
    • Contract Numbers:


    • Sponsor Organizations:

      Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

      University Transportation Centers Program
      Department of Transportation
      Washington, DC  United States  20590
    • Managing Organizations:

      Mid-America Transportation Center

      University of Nebraska-Lincoln
      2200 Vine Street, PO Box 830851
      Lincoln, NE  United States  68583-0851
    • Project Managers:

      Stearns, Amy

    • Performing Organizations:

      University of Nebraska, Lincoln

      1400 R Street
      Lincoln, NE  United States  68588
    • Principal Investigators:

      Jin, Congrui

      Steelman, Joshua

    • Start Date: 20200901
    • Expected Completion Date: 20220228
    • Actual Completion Date: 0
    • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program
    • Source Data: RiP Project 91994-71

    Subject/Index Terms

    Filing Info

    • Accession Number: 01752490
    • Record Type: Research project
    • Source Agency: Mid-America Transportation Center
    • Contract Numbers: 69A3551747107
    • Files: UTC, RIP
    • Created Date: Sep 21 2020 4:10PM