"You need to have enough available height to give the bag proper [crash] coverage," Eckel said. "And the side of the seat has to house the bag, so you need the seams on the seat to be just right."
By introducing the center air bag, GM is at the tip of a trend that includes most of the industry. Many vehicles incorporate air bags for drivers, passengers, and rear seat occupants. Side curtain air bags are common, as are knee bags and front seat "outboard bags," which provide lateral support for the lower half of the body. Ford Motor Co. even has inflatable seat belts for rear seat occupants.
GMC's Acadia will be the first vehicle to offer a center air bag. (Source: GM)
At last week's Chicago Auto Show -- the site of GMC's Acadia rollout -- other automakers hinted that center air bags would be coming soon. Toyota Motor Corp. demonstrated future safety technologies, including center air bags, at its booth. A Toyota spokeswoman at the show said it was "looking at the possibility" of adding center bags.
GM said the front center air bag will also be available on the 2013 editions of the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse.
Rader of the Insurance Institute said GM's move to center air bags is a logical one. "It comes down to Packaging 101. The same thing you do to keep a fragile object safe in a box in transit is the same thing you need to do to protect people in a crash."
For a close-up look at GM's Chevy Volt, go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. In the trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
Happy to see any kind of development that increases driver and passenger safety. But I have to ask--a cushioney, center air bag seems like a no brainer. Why has it taken so long to be introduced into vehicles?
I've begun to wonder whether adding airbags, once they were up to 8 per car, was as much a marketing thing as safety. That's cynical and not fair, I know, but the talk about airbags generally leaves out a discussion of the importance of the crumple zone in crash survivability. Anyway, the salient line in this story is the quote: "You need to have enough available height to give the bag proper [crash] coverage." So in this case the front center bag seems to be a really useful addition.
Alex, I curl a wry smile of acknowledgment to your statement of marketing ploy vs. actual safety concerns – the world is saturated with far too many unrealistic claims designed only to get into people's wallets.However, when it comes to airbags, I think the more bags in a cabin, the better.Watching the video clip showing the deployment, it is evident that even larger areas within the cabin volume could be covered with airbags in future models.Moreover, I think engineers will solve the issue of restricted inflation due to lower ceilings pretty quickly, and seat-side bags will be seen on sedans and even compacts in the near future.Seems like the vision has evolved from a "balloon on the steering wheel" to more of injecting total volume cushion for the inside space. Trending in the right direction, I believe,,,,
Alex, you're exactly right about the crumple zone. I didn't get into it here, but I asked GM why they added this technology instead of knee bags, which are growing in popularity. They said the Acadia didn't need knee bags because it has big crumple zone in front to absorb crash energy.
Beth, there's been talk of center air bags for quite a while, but they haven't been added for two reasons: They are best suited for vehicles with lots of vertical head room, and they are an additional cost. GM didn't say this, but I think it would be tough to ever get this technology to trickle down to low-end vehicles like the Chevy Cruze.
Nice details, Chuck. I didn't realize the driver and passenger bump heads in side crashes. I think this is a great idea. The t-bone is a nasty collision. It looks like engineers thought this one through.
My friend hit a deer at highway speed and the air bag popped out. The air bag truly interfered with evasive manuvers - it almost put him in the ditch.
The car makers need to be careful. After the initial collision, very often there are control inputs that can and should be make. (I know from racing.) If you can't see or the vehicle is automatically disabled or if that bloody white powder from the air bag is making you choke and cough - not good.
WOW! What's next? I have a far better solution...... Instead of contracting w/ mechanical & pneumatic engineers to rapidly deploy air bags, they should invest in advancing the technology of the expanding insulating foam which home builders are now using in exterior walls. Of course, they'd need to get some chemists involved to provide an almost instantaneous expansion to be truly effective. The best part of this plan is that since the front windshield is designed to pop out, the extra pressure created by the foam would force the window out, making it much easier for the EMT personnel on scene to extract the solidified mass. With total containment achieved, the IIHS would not have to keep statistics on neck or back injuries due to whiplash or concussions from the driver & passenger banging heads, since they'd be totally immobilized.
So glad I can still get parts for my 1938 HUPMOBILE! It doesn't have any of these modern-day accessories.
From a design perspective, the best design is the one that gets the job done with the least complexity and cost. At the next viewing of a NASCAR or Indy race, count the number of airbags deployed in the event of a crash. A simple 5-point seat belt and better designed head support in the seat might be as effective as trying to add all the extra airbags. It would also be simpler and cheaper. Just because adding one airbag in the steering wheel proved effective over not having any doesn't mean that that it is the final or preferred solution to safety.
Well, that's certainly true, though I think the impediment towards consumer deployment of a 5-point restraint is that half of all consumers wouldn't understand how to use it and the other half would refuse to. Remember in the early 1970s, when cars had those shoulder belts hanging there limp, which no one wanted to use, or even could use, cause they were an afterthought?
The irony of the situation you describe, Alex, is that it still exists to some degree, and people assume the airbag will save them even when they don't buckle their seat belts. But the truth is that the seat belt saves far more lives than all of those airbags combined. If you're not locked into the proper spot in the seat, the air bag might not be able to provide the cushioning that you need in an accident. All NHTSA estimates show that seat belts save more lives than air bags.
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