Over the decades automakers have developed airbags to mitigate injuries from frontal impacts as well as those from the side, including rollovers, but until recently manufacturers and parts suppliers have not addressed the dangers associated with occupants suffering injury through contact with one another or parts of a vehicle's interior during a crash.
General Motors was the first to unveil center-mounted airbags starting in 2013, and Toyota and Mercedes-Benz have been testing similar systems.
That could change soon as regulatory agencies giving the technology a second look.
"We are experiencing rising interest in this new airbag technology and Euro NCAP is currently assessing new side impact test protocols for 2018 and beyond," said Dirk Schultz, global engineering director, ZF TRW Inflatable Restraints Systems. "If implemented, we believe that many new vehicles could require far-side airbag modules."
German supplier ZF TRW has developed a new center airbag design aimed at protecting occupants in "far-side" and "near-side" crashes, in which the vehicle sustains an impact from the side and occupants hit each other, even if side-impact airbags deploy as designed.
ZF TRW's new center airbag design is integrated into the inner side of the seat back; in a crash it deploys to protect the heads, shoulders and torsos of the occupants. Once triggered, the airbag keeps the driver and passengers in place, reducing the risk of injury. The airbag itself is inflated by a hybrid inflator, and deploys a one-piece-woven bag or sewn cushion.
The novelty of this particular system is that it is engineered to be compatible with a number of automakers' seat designs, and could even deploy a triangular-shaped airbag using a tether mechanism.
"The risk to far-side occupants during side impact crashes is significant," said Schultz. "Accident research shows that in the USA, nearly 30 percent of side impact fatalities involve far side events, and in Germany, nearly 30 percent of severely injured occupants in side crashes resulted from far side collisions."
ZF TRW's airbag design is close to being ready to go, and even without individual regulatory mandates it could be something that we will see in cars in the very near future as airbag technology and automakers' understanding of the ways to prevent injuries that occur in car crashes expands.