External airbags for pedestrian protection

With the latest technological innovations seen on the automobile market and the prospects of self-driving cars on the roads for the very near future, the automotive landscape is about to change. As the technologies improve, car manufacturers are proving their increasing interest on enhancing safety for drivers and for passengers but also on focusing more and more on safety equipment for the other and most vulnerable road users: pedestrians.

The first pedestrian airbag model

In 2012, Volvo released the first-ever pedestrian airbag. This concept was designed to protect pedestrians in the case of a frontal impact with the car. How does it work? Well, sensors in the bumper detect a collision with a pedestrian at speeds between 20 to 50 km/h and trigger the deployment of the airbag. The airbag is designed to do two things: (1) lift the hood of the car to create a safety space between the hard elements inside the hood and the pedestrian and (2) deploy a cushion on the windshield to minimize injury when the pedestrian springs back onto the car.

An airbag with no ‘spring back’ effect

Fast forward to 2015 and that’s when Google had its pedestrian airbag patent approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This airbag technology is intended for Google’s self-driving car, even though this type of car is supposed to be smarter than the average car when it comes to avoiding accidents. Nonetheless, flaws can occur and protection is not always 100% guaranteed, hence the need for a new kind of airbag and added safety.

Google’s airbag differs from existing pedestrian airbag models in two major ways. First the cushion is not located under the windshield but is encased in the bumper and deploys at the level of pedestrians’ legs. Normally when this happens, a ‘spring-back’ effect often knocks the pedestrian on the ground or onto the car, and is likely to cause wounds. However, Google’s innovation lies in the material of the cushion. Instead of using traditional airbag material, Google’s airbags are made from a special visco-elastic material whose consistency is similar to foam. Thus, pedestrians do not bounce off it but rather sink into it, limiting the risk of injuries.

The future of silicone coatings for pedestrian airbags

These innovations in airbag technology can change the way airbags need to be coated. New uses call for new solutions, and with the invention of the pedestrian airbag, the future of silicone is sure to shine bright for some time to come. As a provider of silicone-based solutions for airbag coatings, Elkem Silicones will be there every step of the way to help you design products adapted to your specific needs.