It's not unusual for a car to have a half-dozen or more airbags these days, everywhere from side-pillars to seatbelts. With little room left for more inside the cabin, ZF is working on a concept for an airbag that goes outside the car to protect against one of the most dangerous types of crashes: side impacts.
A side-impact collision, where a car is either struck by another from the side or slides sideways into an object, poses great threats to the car's occupants because the crumple zones are so small compared to the front or the rear. Side-curtain airbags inside the cabin help to protect occupants after the collision, but ZF's concept airbags would actually deploy before the crash and create a crucial buffer.
According to ZF, the system uses cameras, radar and lidar to identify an unavoidable crash, all the sorts of systems commonly found on autonomous vehicles. Once detected, the system triggers in just 150 milliseconds, inflating a large bag from beneath the car that stretches between the A and C pillars.
The result, ZF says, is a significant reduction in the amount of force transferred to the occupants, potentially reducing injury or even, in the case of a small fender-bender, preventing damage to the car. No word on when we might see these deployed on the road, but with more and more production cars including advanced sensing systems like those required here, it may be only a few years off.