Platypi have always been our favorite example of the weirdness of evolution. And while we laugh, it's easy to forget that nature makes us the way we are for reasons we can't always gauge. Humans specifically have changed their habits so quickly that our bodies haven't quite had time to compensate.
That's why agency Clemenger BBDO Melbourne and Australia's Transport Accident Commission (TAC)—alongside artist Patricia Piccinini—created Graham, a human designed to withstand crash forces.
"Cars have evolved a lot faster than we have. Our bodies are just not equipped to handle the forces in common crash scenarios," says Dr. David Logan, a senior research fellow and safety engineer at Monash University, who briefed Piccinini on the project.
Graham looks so weird that we'll never be able to laugh at platypi again. At first glance, you'll notice a few major differences—his head is wide and flat, with a protruding forehead … and he's got an awful lot of nipples.
See how, and why, he was made here:
"What excites me about this project is its relevance to our community," says Piccinini … though that same relevance is also what makes this project depressing. Why would we need to evolve to withstand car accidents? Isn't that what better cars are for?
But that is hardly enough. According to Logan, in 50 percent of crashes, the car doesn't have time to brake. So, what happens to the body?
It depends on what kind of car you have. But this isn't really about that; it's about the speeds we've become accustomed to traveling.
The most significant point of injury is the head. Even when the head stops moving in an accident, the brain keeps advancing, slamming into the skull, then ricocheting off with traumatic force.
"We just don't appreciate, when we're talking about the forces in a car accident, that they're incredible. The strongest man cannot hold himself from going forward in a car accident," says Melbourne-based surgeon Christian Kenfield, who also briefed Piccinini.
A crash is about managing the energy that gets expelled and must be absorbed, both by car and driver. Graham's brain is just like ours, Piccinini explains, but his skull is thicker, with more room for cerebral fluid and ligaments to hold the brain in place—like shock absorbers.
This also explains Graham's scalloped nipple situation. (If, ever again at Thanksgiving, someone wonders aloud why men have nipples at all, you'll have some pretty cool speculative repartee.)
Our ribcages are designed to protect the inner organs, but don't absorb impacts well. "What we need to be thinking is airbag, rather than armour," says Kenfield.
Piccinini's upgraded ribcage includes protruding organic material that, when impacted, expels liquid, thereby absorbing the force of an accident (and justifying the need for more nipples. And possibly also for padded man-bras).
Check out the other elements of Graham on an interactive website, which also gives you nifty glimpses of what's going on under the hood:
"It's sad that we need to think of changing our body, just so that we can survive a motor vehicle crash," Kenfield laments.
A life-size Graham is being exhibited at the State Library of Victoria, then he'll do the rounds of Australia (ideally still with a seatbelt—one can never be too safe!).
As we buckle into our driver's seats, the memory of weird Graham will hopefully make us more mindful when the road looks clear and we're tempted to tick the speed up a little.