External airbags might be on your next new car

ZF exterior curtain airbag

ZF exterior curtain airbag

German supplier ZF has developed external crash safety airbags for cars that could make their way to production in as little as two years. The company showed off an external airbag system at the recent Airbag 2018 Symposium in Germany.

The system is quite similar to current technology used for airbags found inside cars. The airbag is two to three times larger than a standard interior airbag, though, and another major difference is the need for multiple inflators. ZF developed the concept system for the side of the car, which would deploy in the event of a side-impact crash. In testing, ZF found the extra layer of safety reduced injury severity by 40 percent. Think of it as an extra crumple zone before a car or object makes contact with the car itself.

A computer, sensors, cameras, and lidar are responsible for understanding when to deploy the external airbag. Precision is key here. Should the airbag fail to deploy because software and hardware are too conservative, it becomes useless. But, we can only imagine headache scenarios where an airbag deploys suddenly if sensors are too touchy or declare a false-positive. Imagine parking too close to something and a giant airbag deploys without notice.

ZF said it’s pretty confident its software and array of technology would know the difference, however. The technology detects an impending impact and deploys the airbag in just 100 milliseconds. The airbag is fully inflated before the object or another car collides.

The company also explained that it will continue to adapt to self-driving car trends and rethink how to keep occupants safe inside. For example, ZF imagines a future where occupants can roam about the cabin or recline back in their seats. These changes require new types of passive safety systems, which ZF plans to implement in the future.

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