ZF Demonstrates World’s First Pre-Crash External Side Airbag System

German auto components maker ZF has developed the world’s first pre-crash occupant safety system with an external side airbag. The manufacturer gave a live demonstration of the new safety technology in Memmingen, Germany, which saw an external side airbag being deployed just milliseconds before a collision. The company says that the new technology provides an additional lateral crumple zone, which can help save lives and reduce occupant injury by over 40 per cent. To make the system work, ZF has networked the airbags to the vehicle’s sensor systems and has developed algorithms that are capable of determining if a crash is imminent and then decide to deploy the airbag.

Speaking about the new safety system, Uwe Class, Head of the Safe Mobility Systems department, ZF’s Advanced Engineering team said, “We highlighted that this safety system has the potential to significantly reduce occupant injury severity in cases of side impact collisions Our deep understanding of the entire ‘see. think. act.’ process enables us to conceptualise and realise integrated vehicle safety solutions such as the new pre-crash safety system.”

The external side airbag system acts as an additional crumple zone for the doors, A and C pillar

ZF says the biggest challenge was reliably recognising an imminent collision and deploying the external side airbag. The system that’s been developed reacts within less than 150 milliseconds after recognising a crash and makes the decision to deploy the airbag. The vehicle’s sensors work with connected cameras, radar and lidar to identify a collision. Algorithms within the system software decide whether or not a collision is unavoidable and the deployment of the airbag is both possible and beneficial. If the algorithms conclude to a positive, the system ignites the inflators to fill the airbag that has a capacity of 280 and 400 litres in volume, which is about five to eight times larger than the standard driver airbag. The airbag is slotted under the doors and is deployed upwards forming a collision in the door area and the A and C pillars.

ZF says that occupants are at a risk of injuries in the chest area due to a severely deformed passenger cabin and the pre-crash safety system can reduce the penetration of the intruding vehicle by up to 30 per cent. The predictive information can also help improve the standard safety technology, like the ACR8 Active Control Retractor warning occupants to secure themselves in a safe position in the fraction of a second before the collision.

ZF Friedrichshafen AG offers a complete range of integrated vehicle safety technology ranging from sensor systems, algorithms, and control units to active and passive actuators.

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