German automotive supplier ZF has presented a new external airbag system for passenger vehicles, which is designed to soften the initial impact in broadside accidents.
The “pre-crash safety system,” as ZF calls it, uses a sophisticated sensor system and algorithm to recognize when a side impact collision is possible. If the software decides the side impact crash is imminent, it will deploy the side airbag.
In a statement, ZF said the external airbag system “can reduce the penetration of the intruding vehicle by up to 30 percent, helping to significantly reduce the occupants’ risk of injury.”
The information provided by the safety sensor can also be used to warn the vehicle occupants of an impending collision, or to position them in a way that could minimize the risk of injury even further just seconds before the collision, ZF said.
According to data obtained by the supplier, side impact collisions are among the most dangerous type of road traffic accidents and account for nearly 700 deaths per year on German roads – or one third of all yearly traffic accident fatalities in the country.
A video released by ZF shows an inflatable demonstration car approaching an Opel Astra equipped with the pre-crash detection sensor and airbag. While the video does not really demonstrate the effectiveness of the airbag in the event of a real crash, it does confirm that ZF’s sensor system works.
The company says perfecting the sensor and algorithm was the hardest part of developing the pre-crash safety system. It seems it would be easy for the system to recognize a false positive, as vehicles are constantly passing by objects when out on the road that could be misidentified. ZF says the system has approximately 150 milliseconds to make the decision to deploy the airbag and fill it, which is roughly the amount of time it takes a person to blink.
You can see the system in action in the video embedded above.