The biggest weakness of the car construction is the side – in the side impact, the crew is only separated by a few millimeters of the door panel and some of the reinforcements behind them. With the advent of side and head airbags, the survival chances of the crew have increased considerably, and the outer side airbags, which are now finally ready for series production, can further improve the situation.
It is not a revolutionary idea to mount the airbag on the side of the car – after all, the German supplier of automotive components ZF has been working on its version for a decade. The large air bag overlapping the car’s side is integrated in the sill and, in the event of a side impact, inflates and covers the side of the car in less than 100 milliseconds, reducing the impact of the impact on the car’s body and crew. It’s not difficult. The heavy part is detection …
Interior airbags are activated in the event of an accident and due to the work of deformation zones and inertia, they have “enough time” to inflate and protect the crew. But the bags outside on the side must prevent the collision. In addition, no sensors are currently tracking the side of the car – all radars and cameras are looking forwards or backwards, only the ultrasonic parking sensors cover the sides, but they have too little range (in meters).
That is why ZF has also developed a radar detector system (excelling in distance measurement) and camera (excellence in object recognition) based on LiDAR (laser distance measurement, which helps to create a 3D map of the surroundings) to monitor their car situation and assess risks . What you really don’t want is airbags inflated with every false alarm.
Outer airbags promise to reduce the risk of cab distortion by 30% and reduce the risk of crew injury by 20 to 30%. The problem is the cost because a set of exterior airbags will make the sensors more expensive to equip the car. ZF therefore mentions that the necessary sensors can also be used for driving assistant functions such as lane keeping.
Let’s see if car makers are convinced of the benefits of external side airbags. However, ZF believes that we will see the outer side airbags in a serial car within two years, and we keep our fingers crossed because they can make a significant contribution to making cars even safer than they are now.