Several months ago, German auto parts supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG was in the middle of developing side airbags for the exterior of vehicles. Five months have passed and they're now showing how it works and we get to see it in action.
Mounted to the side of an Opel Insignia Tourer, a dummy car slammed into the side of the wagon. Right before impact, the exterior side airbag deploys and mitigated the impact forces. While the dummy car is made of foam, it was still fast enough to actually push the car off course.
While it's an impressive display, you may be wondering how the airbag was triggered in the first place. The car is loaded with sensors on the side and, if it detects that a crash is imminent, the airbags spring into action. For now, ZF is still working out a way to make these crash sensors hidden, but the system itself is already in place. It seems that all that's needed to do is integrate them to the vehicle's body.
To avoid unnecessary deployment, ZF has also engineered the sensors to determine the speed, size, and distance of an oncoming object. That way, the airbags will not engage unnecessarily when, say, a motorcycle lane-splits or when a vehicle runs too close to the side.
With the exterior airbags in place, ZF reckons that injuries from side impacts can be significantly reduced. They say that injuries can be lessened by 20 to 40 percent, while reducing cabin intrusion by 30 percent. At the moment, the exterior side airbag is still undergoing further development. But even in this stage, ZF says that there are some automakers interested in fitting this system in their future models.