Safety in the bag

The world’s first commercial motorbike airbag is the latest example of global advances in crash protection systems.

Honda has announced the launch of the world’s first commercially- available motorcycle airbag.

Developed by engineers at the company’s R&D centre in Japan, the system will make its debut next year on the US version of the Gold Wing motorbike.

The airbag is one of a spate of new safety systems to emerge from the global automotive industry, with manufacturers including Jaguar and Volvo using advanced technologies to offer better protection for drivers and pedestrians.

A spokesman for Honda Bikes, said that the airbag system is likely to be launched in the UK in 2007.

While airbags have been commonplace in cars since the 1980s, their use on motorbikes — often investigated — has never been realised until now. This is largely due to the dynamics in a motorcycle accident, which are harder to model and predict than those involved in a car crash.

The interaction between the airbag and rider can be affected by different types of crash motion, including yawing, pitching, and rolling, with the calculations further complicated by the fact that motorbikes are not equipped with seatbelts.

Honda addressed this problem through the pioneering development of specially-designed motorcycle crash test dummies that were used to gather a vast array of data on the behaviour of bikes during collisions. Unlike dummies in cars, these contain embedded sensors that record crash test data without the need for external wires, which can interfere with dummy movement.

The airbag system has primarily been designed to protect riders in head-on collisions, which are thought to account for the majority of serious motorbike accidents.

Crash sensors attached to the front forks detect a frontal impact and feed this data to the airbag’s electronic control unit (ECU). By continuously comparing this information to standard vehicle behaviour, the ECU determines whether or not it is necessary to activate the airbag.

When deployed, the airbag is rapidly inflated with nitrogen and absorbs some of the forward energy of the rider, reducing the velocity at which he or she may be thrown from the bike. The whole process takes just 0.15 seconds.

Meanwhile, in the car sector, Jaguar has also claimed a world first with the unveiling of an intelligent deployable bonnet system designed to protect pedestrians in an accident.

Premiered last week at the Frankfurt motor show, the Pyrotechnic Pedestrian Deployable Bonnet System (PDBS) will debut in the UK early next year on the company’s XK sports car. In an impact the bonnet automatically pops up a few inches, creating a cushion of air between the bonnet and the car, protecting pedestrians from the hard points in the engine compartment. According to Jaguar, the system reacts in around 30 milliseconds.

The technology, which is automatically disabled at high speeds, is triggered by sensors mounted in the front bumper.

Detailed investigation into various types of impact enabled Jaguar’s engineers to develop a system that can distinguish between hitting a pedestrian and a collision with inanimate objects such as road cones.

For car users, Volvo unveiled a convertible version of its C70 featuring safety systems that give its occupants head protection during a side impact — even when the window is down. If the car rolls, strong metal bars are deployed behind the rear passenger seats using a pyrotechnic charge, quickly adding extra protection. The pillars and doors have also been designed to channel force from a side impact or roll sideways, backwards and downwards, to compensate for the lack of roof while protecting the passenger compartment from damage.