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New Car Airbag Is Cleverer Than It Looks

Safety Technology / 15 Comments

This is one of many balloon-type safety devices set to hit the market.

German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG may be better known for its automatic transmissions but it's also involved in a number of other automotive projects too including integrated safety devices. One such device is an airbag system that runs along the side of a car that's designed to deploy before an accident has taken place.

Mounted externally it helps to serve as an additional crumple zone and according to ZF can help reduce the occupant injury severity by up to 40 percent. External airbags are not all that new actually, Volvo introduced a system that deployed at the base of the windscreen to reduce pedestrian injuries a few years back.

"Occupant safety is paramount when developing new vehicles for automated and autonomous driving," says Dr. Michael Büchsner, Head of ZF's Passive Safety Systems Division. "Our concept of the pre-crash external side airbag is a great example of how ZF wants to achieve its Vision Zero, a world without accidents and emissions."

ZF is also developing the lightest knee airbag in the automotive industry as well as a far-side airbag that unfolds in the vehicle's center, designed to help meet future regulatory testing. Most of these devices were shown at last year's Airbag symposium in Mannheim, Germany last November and ZF believes that they could go into production within two years.

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"The new test requirements of Euro NCAP, scheduled to be introduced by 2020, extend occupant safety requirements for the side facing away from the occupants in case of a side impact," as Norbert Kagerer, Head of Development at ZF's Passive Safety Systems Division, points out. "In the future, the far-side airbag may be necessary in order to receive a 5-star crash safety rating." Another innovation is the 'Dual Contour' airbag that covers extended passenger positions in automated driving scenarios.

ZF is also looking into how to integrate new features into airbag-equipped steering wheels to cater for highly automated vehicles. While advancing occupant safety is vital, we can't help but think that in a few years from now accident scenes will look like a collection of balloons have collided with each other. Hopefully, by that stage, the seemingly never-ending Takata recalls would have been resolved.