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External airbag could protect pedestrians and cyclists

Volvo has developed an external airbag that could protect pedestrians and cyclists in the event of a collision.

The Scandinavian car company has integrated an airbag beneath the bonnet of its 2013 V40 vehicle, which goes into production in May.

Thomas Broberg, senior technical advisor at Volvo, told The Engineer: ‘We’re using airbag technology to have a cushioning effect on the outside of the vehicle to try and protect pedestrians.’

The external airbag, which was developed in Sweden at Volvo’s R&D facility, fully inflates in less than a second and is most effective in collisions involving cars travelling between 12mph and 31mph.

The airbag is deployed when sensors in the front bumper register any physical contact between the car and a pedestrian or a cyclist.

Upon impact, the rear end of the bonnet is released and elevated four inches by the deploying airbag, which inflates to cover the area under the raised bonnet, in addition to approximately one-third of the windscreen and the lower part of the steel pillars that support the windscreen.

‘Another reason for raising the bonnet is to create more space between the hood and the hard components in the engine-bay compartments — basically creating more space to provide a cushioning effect,’ said Broberg.

The concept of external airbags has been around for several years but taking the leap from concept to being put into production is significant, according to Broberg.

To complement the external airbag, Volvo has developed a collision-warning and auto-brake system, which reduces the speed of the vehicle if a collision is unavoidable and sounds an alarm to alert the driver.

Volvo has developed an external airbag that could protect pedestrians and cyclists in the event of a collision

The external airbag and the collision-warning system could have a significant impact on pedestrian and cyclist casualty rates. Statistics from the Department for Transport show that 5,605 pedestrians and 2,771 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in 2010, with most fatalities occuring in incidents where the car was travelling below 40mph.

Readers' comments (18)

  • Wonderfull, so now it's a whole lot safer to run people over. I'm sure this will also make the car much more expensive to repair which in turn will make it more expensive to insure.

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  • Systems such as this address the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. Nothing will change until we can educate vehicle drivers that the safety of others should be their prime concern and that the use of a vehicle is not a right but a privilege with attendant responsibilities. The very use of the word 'accident' to describe a collision implies an abrogation of responsibility and a failure to recognise an individuals responsibility to others.

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  • "Welcome Driver, you are now about to start you journey in the worlds safest, most completely automatic car ever designed. So sit back and enjoy the trip, confident in the knowledge that our experts have esured that nothing can possibly go wrong snnr go wrong snnnr go wrong snnnnnnnr go wrong....."

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  • None of the downsides have been highlighted, one is that if visibility after an airbag is, or has been deployed.
    In real world situations many such incidents require the driver to have visibility and control after an impact with a pedestrian or cyclist to prevent them hitting other things and causing more unnecessary injuries.

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  • Am I missing something, or is this an early April Fool? Surely the bag inflates AFTER the damage has been done by a part of the car that has already hit a pedestrian. This is not the case with an internal bag for occupants, as there is a delay between impact and personal collision with the interior of the car.

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  • OK, so you nudge the barrier when parking and the airbag goes off...You nudge the car in front when parking and the airbag goes off... You nudge the garage wall when parking and the airbag goes off...What fun!!

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  • Peter L..... The initial impact with a pedestrian triggers the airbag to raise the bonnet to provide a 'cushioning' effect for said pedestrian who will almost certainly slam into the bonnet immediately after impact. Cushioning this source of injury will greatly reduce fatalities and serious injury.

    As for the doomsayers who think all drivers are murderous psycopaths and propose a reduction in speed limits to nonsensically low limits, do a careful analysis of all motoring accidents. Highway and motorway speeds are an almost invisibly small proportion of 'speed related' serious motoring injuries or deaths. It is 'inappropriate' speed that kills or injurs. 'Inappropriate' could be 25mph on a tight country lane meeting a similarly minded driver coming the other way. It is rarely outright speed that is at fault!

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  • So, yet another reason for motorists to absolve themselves from the responsibility of operating a couple of tons of metal safely in public places.
    Volvo should spend as much time looking up 'risk compensation'.

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  • Why should the motorist pay for this? Darwinian law applies!

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  • I know the answer! All we need is a man walking in front with a red flag...

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