Auto Tech

World's first panoramic sunroof airbag ready to deploy

Korean supplier Hyundai Mobis hints its novel safety device is headed for a premium SUV.

Hyundai Mobis

Even as auto companies are innovating toward the promise of a crash-free future thanks to advancements in self-driving and connected car technology, there's evidently still room for new passive safety countermeasures, too. The latest? Hyundai Mobis' panoramic sunroof airbag, which the supplier claims is a world first. That's right, automobiles have yet to hit "peak airbag."

The safety device is designed to curb injuries by keeping occupants from being ejected through a vehicle's sunroof in the event of a rollover crash. Korea's largest automotive supplier -- a parts and services division of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis -- says the device is installed in the panoramic sunroof hardware itself. Capable of being deployed in just 0.08 seconds, the airbag unfurls from the rear of the vehicle to the front. Triggered by the vehicle's yaw sensor, the inflated device looks a bit like an air mattress pool float, covering nearly the entire ceiling of the cabin.

How big of a problem are sunroof ejections? According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 260 passengers were thrown through a vehicle's sunroof in rollover accidents reported between 2000 and 2015. That may seem like a small total incurred over a decade and a half, but panoramic roofs are becoming increasingly popular options, especially on SUVs and in luxury cars. What's more, Hyundai Mobis' new airbag may also reduce injuries among occupants who would otherwise remain inside the vehicle in an accident, curbing the risk of concussions and broken bones.

Hyundai Mobis' airbag knows whether the sunroof is open or closed.

Hyundai Mobis

Hyundai Mobis points out that such equipment has been more challenging to develop than other airbags, in part because the way the device activates needs to account for whether the sunroof is open or closed.

The supplier notes that its panoramic sunroof airbag has just finished road and reliability verification -- including vibration and heat-resistance testing. Further, Hyundai Mobis says it has "secured mass production technology," suggesting that we could see the airbag in a new vehicle soon. In fact, in a press release, the company points out specifically that it has "11 patents-pending to support its move into the premium SUV market," which hints that the technology's first application could be in Genesis' forthcoming SUV, a vehicle that until now has only been hinted at in concept form.