Since Mercedes-Benz introduced the frontal airbag as an option on its S-Class vehicles back in 1981, airbags have become standard safety equipment in passenger vehicles the world over. In addition to frontal driver- and passenger-side airbags, there are now also side curtain, side torso, knee, rear curtain and even seat-belt airbags. With the aim of freeing up space in increasingly crowded instrument clusters, automotive safety systems manufacturer TRW has now developed a "bag in roof" airbag system that deploys the front airbag from the roof instead of the steering wheel or dashboard.
TRW says shifting the airbag system from in front of to above the vehicle occupants will provide vehicle manufacturers with the ability to improve the looks, ergonomics and functionality of their vehicle's instrument panels without compromising passenger safety.
TRW adds that its system, which comprises a cushion and gas generator to supply the gas to the cushion in the event of an impact, will also significantly reduce the development costs of vehicle dashboards as there is no need to develop a specific 'door' on the steering wheel or dashboard that opens when the airbag is deployed.
TRW has been working on the bag in roof airbag system for several years and closely with a major European vehicle manufacturer over the past two years. This has now resulted in a "significant production contract" with the unnamed vehicle manufacturer, which could see the technology appearing in production vehicles in the not too distant future - although the technology will no doubt have to prove itself in testing with government bodies around the world before it is allowed to replace conventional systems.
If, as expected, TRW's bag in roof airbag system makes its way into vehicles, it will be interesting to see what vehicle interior designers do with the extra freedom in terms of instrument panel design.