IRL: SAE presents Schwitzer award to Delphi

For 39 years, the Indiana section of the Society of Automotive Engineers has presented the BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award for innovative engineering excellence in the field of race car design during the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race...

For 39 years, the Indiana section of the Society of Automotive Engineers has presented the BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award for innovative engineering excellence in the field of race car design during the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race gathering.

The 39th recipient of this prestigious award is Delphi Corporation and its quintet of engineers responsible for developing the Delphi Earpiece Sensor System, used in the Indy Racing League’s IndyCar and Menards Infiniti Pro Series and the Champ Car World Series to measure the effects of a crash on the driver’s head and neck.

The system is under evaluation by the FIA’s Formula One and by NASCAR; it is being used by the US Air Force in ejection seat testing.

The accelerometer produced by Delphi is used in conjunction with the firm’s Accident Data Recorder 2 (ADR2) box that has been in use for more than six years and can calculate chassis g-forces; the Earpiece Sensor System (ESS), in use since last season measures the same loads on the driver.

Speaking for Delphi, Glen Gray, Delphi Motorsports Engineering Manager expressed his thanks to Tony George, founder of the Indy Racing League, to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and to the SAE for this award.

In addition, Gray thanked Brian Barnhart, president and COO of the IRL, together with Dr. Henry Bock (IRL/IMS director of medical services), Phil Casey (senior technical manager) and Dave Brown, who heads the Delphi Safety Team. “We have a great environment at Delphi that allows us to do this type” of gratifying work, Gray declared.

Bock, who instigated the development of the ESS called the choice for the Schwitzer Award “a tribute to the IRL and IMS. As you know items of this nature do not come with a reasonable price tag,” Bock admitted. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League and I’ve got to thank them.”

In addition to Gray, the SAE cited Delphi ESS team members Andy Inman, systems engineer, software engineer Tim Kronenberg, project engineers Erskine Carter and Bruce Natvig for their work on the project.

SAE BorgWarner Schwitzer award selection committee chairman Steve Holman called the Earpiece Sensor System “a major advance in safety.” In the event of a crash a trio of sensors delivers data necessary to determine the degree of a head injury to a driver, providing actual head acceleration values at the moment of impact.

According to Bock, these values are used to calculate a Head Injury Criterion (HIC), a number that is an important part of diagnosis. Currently there is no medical test that can detect concussion other than a physical exam, Bock stated.

Not only is the earpiece used to record crash data, it blocks exterior sound and wind from the driver’s ears and allows teams to conduct pit-to-car audio. The device has garnered driver support as more comfort features have been added. Initially, reliability was sacrificed for comfort but Delphi knew that gaining acceptance meant making the piece comfortable to drivers.

Now that the system has gained ready acceptance Delphi is adding robustness back into the earpiece, particularly in the area of wires, which had a tendency to break in earlier iterations of the device.

The process of equipping drivers with the Earpiece Sensor System has several steps, starting with a certified audiologist making an impression of the driver’s ears that are similar to those used for hearing aids. These impressions are sent to a company in Chicago that makes a negative mold of each impression so that replacement sets can easily be made.

The earpieces are then produced using silicone, poured into the mold and around the trio of accelerometers, thereby improving the fit. The silicone material has no shrinkage or hardness changes and is good for about two years of use.

Once completed the earpieces are sent to Delphi where the connector is added to the accelerometers. The audiologist does a final fit with the driver to ensure there are no comfort issues.

Currently the accelerometer data is collected at a rate of 500 Hz, but upcoming software for the ADR2 will increase the sample rate to 1000 Hz. The 3 axes of each accelerometer are roughly aligned with the car: up/down, left/right and forward/backward. Because of installation variances for the earpiece and the changing position of the driver’s head in the car, it is impossible to completely align the axes of the accelerometer with the axes of the car, but Delphi is working on a solution, according to Gray.

The five Delphi engineers immediately donated their $5000 prize for this BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award to the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation and Schmidt, on hand to accept the prize noted, “This is fantastic for our Foundation. We recognize that the IRL and Tony George are bullish on safety and are proponents of driver safety. We’re grateful for their attention to this important work.”

The SAE, celebrating its 100th anniversary is starting a new tradition this year in conjunction with the Louis Schwitzer award. The organization will fund a $1000 scholarship in the winner’s name to his/her alma mater and, if the Award winner was a Formula SAE team member while in school, the scholarship is increased to $2000.

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Series Automotive , IndyCar
Drivers Sam Schmidt , Tony George , Brian Barnhart