What challenges for the airbags of tomorrow?

News from AIRBAG 2018 Congress

On November 26th to 28th took place the AIRBAG 2018 congress in Mannheim, Germany. With more than 600 attendees from all over the world, it was an interesting place to be if one wanted to hear the latest ideas and thoughts about airbags in the future.

Interestingly enough, the congress, historically focused on the advances of safety components, has let grounds to a wider debate amongst its attendees: what will the future car interiors look like, and will automobiles still need passive safety systems once computers will manage the cars’ behaviors on the road?

In particular, will there still be airbags once self-driving cars are on the roads? Though active systems through sensors, electronics, computer programs and artificial intelligence are gaining more and more importance in avoiding road fatalities, the answer is definitely “Yes!”, we will indeed need more airbags

New airbags, new shapes, and new technologies

But these airbags may not be of the same shape, function or location as what we know of the current automobiles: where does the airbag fit in a joystick?.

For now, the upcoming far-side impact protection assessment, to be implemented in 2020 in the Euro New Car Assessment Program, is leading the development of new airbag modules to be located between driver and front passenger. Various shapes and attachment solutions were exhibited or discussed. These airbags, potentially mounted on the seat structure, may well be leading the way for when occupants will no longer be seating in the conventional, road-facing position.

On the components front, the race towards miniaturization is well engaged. Airbag modules will have less and less space to fit in, and materials will have to cope with this requirement: if airbag cushions are getting bigger on average once deployed, they definitely need to fold up smaller. In line with Elkem Silicones recent developments to save on weight and increase compacity of fabrics, other co-suppliers to the industry (Yarns and fabrics, inflators, …) have exhibited new and lighter products, that also beat previous technologies in overall performance.*

Spotted on one booth, airbag covers are also evolving: what if they could be of a different aspect, fitting nicely into their environment, especially when the steering wheel will be less imposing, and better integrated “visually” in the automobile’s interior? Vegan leathers are now available to make much nicer covers than with the conventional “plastic” covers, and silicones “faux leather” coatings (link) may be used for that very specific application, providing enhanced aspect, durability and protection upon airbag deployments.

Discussions with other attendees were intense, extremely interesting, and sources of inspiration for our future developments. The Elkem Silicones’ team thanks all the attendees for that, and looks forward to the next edition in 2020!