An engineer from Swedish auto maker Volvo first came up with the idea of the 3-point seat belt, the integrated lap and shoulder harness now standard in all vehicles. Now the company is focused on mass production of the world's first pedestrian air bag, designed to deploy on the outside of a vehicle within a second of sensors noting contact with a human leg.
The pedestrian air bag is already available in cars being sold in Australia, with it being likely that the European market will also embrace the technology. Volvo has not yet committed to the U.S. market with the model for which the bags are available.
The idea does seem timely and relevant. Although the NHTSA states that car accident fatalities are generally trending downward, the same is not true of accidents that take the lives of pedestrians and bicyclists. The administration notes that 16 percent of the people who died in accidents involving cars last year were outside the vehicle.
Volvo's bag system works in tandem with technology geared toward stopping a car automatically if a driver isn't sufficiently responding to a person about to be struck. In conjunction with brakes being applied independently, an airbag deploys from the hood of the car, which raises slightly when sensors detect human contact.
The airbag covers the lower portion of the windshield. Volvo's engineers note that pedestrians who are struck by cars often slide up the grill and make contact with the windshield, which results in serious head injuries. The air bag is intended to lessen the contact.
The system is set up to work within a speed limit range of about 12 to 30 miles per hour.
Source: Popular Science, "Volvo's new exterior airbags protect pedestrians," Shaunacy Ferro, Feb. 20, 2013