Airbags Outside Your Car? Why Not

Here's one question: if there's an airbag to protect you and your passenger inside, how come there aren't any airbags to protect your vehicle outside?

Well, ZF Friedrichshafen AG has developed this type of technology at last. Introduced last year at the Airbag 2018 Symposium in Germany, these external airbags will make their way to production possibly as early as next year.

How it works[/caption>

It works just like an airbag inside the car--only outside and acts act as an additional crumple zone during an impact. The difference, however, is that it's two to three times bigger than interior airbags--and gets deployed only during a side-impact crash.

Side-impact collisions are among the most dangerous type of road traffic accidents. This is especially true for "opposite-side-to-passenger" collisions, where the impact can actually throw them towards the middle of the vehicle. According to ZF's study:

"In certain crash events, the test dummies show that the passenger's torso could bend over the center console while the seat belt hold the pelvis back in the seat. As a result, the thoracic spine twists and the cervical spine can be overstretched. The dummy data readings indicate that serious injuries could result."[/caption>

According to ZF, having these external side airbags are very helpful as they can reduce occupant injury severity up to 30 to 40 percent.

How it's designed

The design of the ZF far-side airbag focused on two chambers arranged to complement each other.

"We want to support the head in the upper area as early as possible. The shoulders of the passenger are usually held in place between the two chambers. The entire upper body is therefore better supported on both sides," explains Dominique Acker, an engineer involved in the preliminary development of side airbags in the Passive Safety Systems Division.

"This means that the airbag differs from the front and side airbags: the function of these airbags is to help reduce the body's momentum by 'enveloping' the passenger, while the far-side airbag provides the passenger's body with more support. The pressure in the chambers is therefore higher than in most other airbags," explains Acker.

To make this possible, ZF placed the airbags to the vehicle’s sensor systems and developed algorithms that quickly calculate if a crash is imminent. It uses connected cameras, radar, and lidar to accurately identify a potential impact. Then, it decides whether or not to deploy the airbag.

The entire system has approximately 150 milliseconds to make the decision to deploy the airbag and fill it--roughly the amount of time it takes a person to blink.

When will it be available?

According to Acker, ZF's side airbags will be introduced in the market next year.

"We will commence with the first series production of our far-side airbag in a compact-class vehicle in 2020," he said.