Thursday, July 14, 2011

MyIdeas - Airbag Seatbelts

"We're going backwards," I thought to myself, back in 2004.

We had two car seats in the back for our six year old and three year old, and I thought about giving my six year old the treat of "riding up front with dad," like my dad did with me when I was a kid.

But, I was cautioned that it was unsafe. Why? Airbags.

It's not "safe" for a child to sit in the front seat in a vehicle with airbags, because the deploying air bag could cause head trauma in a frontal collision. "But," I thought, "aren't cars today supposed to be safer?" And it got me to thinking.

When an airbag deploys, it expands real fast - in a frontal collision with a person's body moving forward at, say 60 km/h, the airbag would be inflating in the opposite direction at a speed of approximately 300km/h - so, instead of hitting the dashboard, the head is "hitting" the inflating airbag.

It dawned on me that this idea - the collision between the forward-moving head/body and the rearward-inflating airbag - was a problem that needed some kind of solution.

Me and J (the other half of D&J's Auto Talk) talked about perhaps filling the car with those little shipping packing styrofoam bits like some huge moving popcorn popper...but that was just brainstorming . And then I thought, maybe the solution isn't so far afield but is actually inherent in the problem. "The airbag is fine, but how do we get an airbag inflating in the same direction as the occupant?" The only physical part of the car that could facilitate this somehow was - you guessed it - the seatbelt.

Now, I'm no engineer, so while I had the thought, I dismissed it as "just another crazy idea."

Well, Ford introduced rear-seat seatbelt airbags in their 2011 Explorer. Oh, and Ford won the AJAC 2011 Best New Technology Award for it. Not so crazy after all.

Granted, Ford's rationale for the rear-seat deployment is not identical to my idea for the front seat (they were looking for a place to house the rear airbag since there's no dashboard in front of a rear-seat passenger). But, the solution - to re-imagine a "belt" and house the airbag inside the re-imaged belt - is the same, and required a fresh interpretation of a "belt" from an auto-maker's standpoint. Ultimately, the speed with which the belt-bag inflates is not as fast because "it does not have to close the gap between the bag and the occupant" as a dash-housed bag does.

That was my idea, and I did not know that it was worth pursuing, or how to go about pursuing it.

In this 2nd installment, we're reinforcing a lesson - crazy ideas are not so crazy, and are worth exploring for development.

I should also hasten to say that these MyIdeas installments are not at all about some attempt to lay a foundation to sue. I have no documentation beyond memories and anecdotes to substantiate my claims, nor would I have any expectation that the musings of a couple of car guys somehow found their way to the R&D departments of the world's leading auto manufacturers and they rushed to market to beat me to the punch.They are about psyching myself up to do what I can to take future ideas further than the "idea only" stage. And, merit in past ideas is no guarantee that future ideas are worth anything - they are, however, encouragements that my ideas have had traction potential.

Next - New car smell
Previous - Active Suspension

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