Protecting passengers in autonomous vehicles with new seating configurations is another area where restraint systems are undergoing modifications. At the same time, traditional passive safety systems are being designed to help improve weight, installation space and protection performance.


ZF Presents Strategies for Pre-Crash Airbag Activation


Designed to be deployed externally from the side of the vehicle, this airbag helps serve as an additional crumple zone in the event of an accident. Tests have shown it can help reduce the occupant injury severity up to 40 percent.


Well protected also in new seating positions


In addition to the ever-stronger connection of active and passive safety technologies, occupant safety must also be adapted to new seating positions. A vehicle travelling in highly automated mode would ideally allow the driver to relax or work. In the future, it will be possible to recline the seat or turn it to face other directions. Restraint systems like seatbelts and airbags must be designed to help protect the occupants in these flexible seating positions and will increasingly be integrated into the seat itself. Adaptive ‘dual contour’ airbags have been developed for this purpose. These airbags are designed to adapt to the occupant position and the new degree of freedom in the passenger compartment that automated driving has created.


Safety cushion in the middle


To help lower the risk of collision between front seat occupants or with interior structural components during cases such as far side impact, ZF’s development of a far-side airbag is well advanced. It unfolds in the vehicle’s center and is designed to help meet future regulatory testing: “The new test requirements of Euro NCAP, scheduled to be introduced by 2020, extend occupant safety requirements for the side facing away from the occupants in case of a side impact,” as Norbert Kagerer, Head of Development at ZF’s Passive Safety Systems Division, points out. “In the future, the far-side airbag may be necessary in order to receive a 5-star crash safety rating.”


Flexible flyweight


ZF is also addressing other automotive megatrends with the lightest knee airbag in the automotive industry: “Due to its lower weight, the vehicle consumes less fuel and gives off fewer emissions,” says Kagerer. “In addition, the smaller and more flexible size helps meet new interior requirements of future electric and autonomous vehicles.” Featuring a housing made of fabric instead of metal, ZF’s new development weighs up to 30 percent less than conventional knee airbags. Volume production will begin in 2019.


The steering wheel of the future


Today the driver airbag is located in the steering wheel and both are integral parts of the occupant safety system. Partly or highly automated vehicles will for the foreseeable future feature a steering wheel that will evolve with new design features. Apart from the classic round shape, flat and to some extent open forms will also be available on the market. In combination with new folding mechanisms, they will ensure more freedom of movement for the occupants. Integrated displays, for instance, will increase interaction with the occupants and allow for more control of interior systems from the steering wheel.


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