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How to Make Money While Saving Lives

Jessica Richman
Oct 9, 2018 · 4 min read

Like me, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about what the crash test dummy looked like that was used in the safety-testing procedure for your automobile. Little did I know how important this truly was until I started to dig into some of the research.

I discovered that Richard W. Kent and Jason L. Forman from the University of Virginia and Ola Bostrom from Autoliv Research in Sweden had studied obese and non-obese cadavers and how they reacted to frontal car crashes. Unsurprisingly, the obese cadavers moved around differently in ways that made them more susceptible to chest injuries.

Imagine then, how dangerous it must be for about 30% of the population to get behind the wheel when their cars and other forms of transport are not designed with their bodies in mind?

One brilliant businessman and his company stepped into the arena to take this problem on head first — Humanetics, the world’s leading supplier in the design and manufacture of crash test dummies. In an interview with a Detroit TV station, Humanetics CEO Christopher J. O’Connor said: “When you select a car and you look at the five-star crash rating or the insurance institute rating scheme, you assume that it’s the same for all drivers but in fact it may not be because your body size may react differently from the restraints, airbag, seat belt or even to the seat itself. As a result, it might be less safe for you.” Although Humanetics and its associated companies had been around since the 1950's, Mr. O’Conner realized his company needed to adapt o the changing global population and in 2014, Humanetics release a crash-test dummy with a demographically accurate larger body.

Humanetics partnered with Trauma Surgeon Stewart Wang, an expert in crash-related injuries and his team at the University of Michigan’s International Center of Automotive Medicine (ICAM) to create these new dummies by selecting 6,000 computerized scans from a national database to provide appropriate body averages which were in turn used to 3-D print the prototypes for the dummies. Humanetics released two new dummies — an obese dummy which weighs 273 pounds as well as a dummy that was based on an overweight 70-year-old woman. The 273 pound dummy is more than 100 pounds heavier than the normal crash-test dummy used by most companies. Imagine the impact these inanimate objects have had on the current and future safety of millions of drivers?

Not only did Humanetics CEO Christopher O’Connor see a market-opportunity, but in doing so, he has saved lives for generations to come.

You may now be asking yourself — what does this have to do with me?

Do you create a good or provide a service for human beings? If so- then the short answer is- a lot! As you think through the good or service you provide, are you taking into account the current and future size of your customer base and how they use your product or service? Do you run an autonomous vehicle company like @cruiseautomation and have you tested your cars with people of various weights and body sizes? Do you design office furniture (or any furniture for that matter) like @steelcase and do you have sample users that reflect the current population? Are you a city planning commission that needs to plan the future transport of a city? Have you considered what changing body sizes mean on the infrastructure you are building? Do you design shoes like @nike and are you accounting for the fact that shoes wear quicker (and differently) when people with larger bodies are wearing them?

These are questions everyone should be thinking about and they also represent new business opportunities:

1) Consumer-Testing Companies: Almost every company is going to need to change its product-assortment to reflect the changing weight and body size of the population. Can you create a testing-environment where these companies can do this necessary testing?

2) Consulting: Most environments that we live and work in will need to change in order to better serve the population. How can you help companies drive revenue by providing a safer and more comfortable experience?

3) Design: Products will need to change — can you be the one to help companies design products that will comfortably and realistically serve customers? Can you become a subject-matter expert to guide these design changes?

In closing, body sizes are changing rapidly and they are changing globally. How can you and your company help drive revenue while providing a safer, more comfortable and more dignified place to live for almost one-third of the worlds population?

If this resonated with you and is important to you, please consider sharing. If you are interested in continuing this conversation, please feel free to send me an email


Larkin, Alexandra, “Crash-test dummies are older and fatter — just like many Americans”, CNN, 11 February, 2017,

Lee, Lisa-Ann, “Crash-test dummies get older and fatter, just like people”, New Atlas, 26 January, 2017,

Lee, Bruce Y., “Crash Test Dummies: Here is What The Obesity Epidemic Is Doing To Them”, Forbes, 28 April, 2017,

Sifferlin, Alexandra, “Almost 30% of People in the World Are Obese or Overweight”, Time, 12 June 2017,

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