The front-mounted airbag covers the entire hood for a soft landing.
Ford recently filed a patent for external airbags with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
It's not the first manufacturer to feature external airbags. A decade ago, Volvo debuted a pedestrian airbag, and ZF showcased a pre-crash airbag in 2019.
Ford's new patent is more advanced than both. Volvo's system was a simple airbag under the hood, meant to cushion the blow. In contrast, ZF's side airbags were large cushions intended to add an additional layer of side-impact protection.
Ford's system consists of an airbag with multiple possible portions extending under and over the hood thanks to a pyrotechnic actuator pulling the bag in several directions.
Obviously, these airbags don't deploy in the event of a collision but rather right before an imminent collision. Computing software is advanced enough to calculate when a crash is unavoidable, and it will deploy the airbag accordingly.
According to the patent, originally discovered by Motor Authority, the external airbag can be used on most types of vehicles, including SUVs, cars, crossovers, and pickups. It can also be used in autonomous vehicles.
Though Ford doesn't make any claims with regard to the impact, ZF claimed that its external airbags could reduce occupant injury severity by up to 40 percent.
As for pedestrian safety, there's one big problem.
Airbags are classified as a supplemental restraint system (SRS), and they work in combination with the seat belt and crumple zone to lessen the impact.
In the case of a pedestrian accident, the exterior airbag will be the primary safety system. The bag appears to be designed to keep a pedestrian from rolling underneath a vehicle. It also covers the entire hood and the windscreen wipers, which cause the most damage in front impact. That's why cars moved away from exterior wipers to wipers hidden underneath the edge of the hood. It's standard practice in the design world these days.
Speaking of design, this new airbag system might allow Ford more freedom with its designs. It's widely known that safety legislation drastically impacted car design. For example, there has to be a certain amount of room between the engine and the hood.
The patent application mentions that the airbags would be mounted within a separate trim piece at the front of the car. Take the front of the Ford F-150, for example. The exterior airbag could easily be mounted between the grille and the lower bumper. The idea is that it would be cost-effective to replace, though it would add more to the overall price of the vehicle.
When you look at how many expensive components (radar sensors, cameras, etc.) are mounted within the front of a vehicle, replacing an airbag might be more cost-effective than all of these expensive components.