External Airbags Could Be The Future Of Car Safety

Red lights? I even don’t bother slowing down anymore, friends. Ever since I fitted ZF’s concept pre-crash external side airbags, I can pretty much just let traffic ping-pong off my car’s pillowed body.

I’m kidding, of course, but the actual idea here is interesting.

ZF is a monolithic automotive parts supplier which most people have never heard of, but car enthusiasts might recognise as the maker of every auto journalist’s favourite eight-speed automatic transmission which is currently in a bunch of modern cars.

But it makes much more than just transmissions and other components for production vehicles, ZF is also ideating possible future parts, like this external airbag system that would hypothetically inflate just before you were about to get T-boned and ideally help keep you from getting hurt.

ZF is calling this the “world’s first pre-crash external side airbag system,” but the company trotted out something very similar in 2016. And, anybody remember the pedestrian-catching hood airbag that Land Rover was experimenting with?

Anyway, the people at ZF seem to think they’ve made some progress. In the new concept, the airbag is networked into the cars litany of sensors so it can pop just in the nick of time, but not at the wrong time, which would be silly and inconvenient.

Apparently this version of the safety system has “approximately 150 milliseconds to make the decision to deploy the airbag and fill it.”

ZF’s press release has some specifics:

“The vehicle’s sensors first have to identify a potential impact quickly and accurately. This is possible with connected cameras, radar and lidar. Algorithms within the system software decide whether or not a collision is unavoidable and the deployment of the airbag is both possible and beneficial. If these decisions are all affirmative, the system ignites the inflators to fill the airbag. The airbag, which has a capacity of between 280 and 400 litres (five to eight times the volume of a driver airbag) depending on the vehicle, then expands upwards from the side sill to form an additional crumple zone in the door area between the A and C pillars.”

It seems like this would add a lot to the purchase and repair cost of a car. But if it saves you a stay in the hospital, it would be worth it.

Doesn’t look like there are any confirmed plans for integrating this into a production vehicle yet, but ZF is a historically successful company, and if it’s sinking resources into this idea for years there’s a decent chance some form of it will hit the streets eventually.

This story originally appeared on Jalopnik.


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