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Two companies say they’ve rethought air bag design

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Announcements | Technology
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With improving safety in mind, ZF Lifetec has designed a new type of steering wheel that deploys an air bag from the top rather than the center.

The company said it came up with the design with future-oriented interior concepts in mind.

“In the event of an accident, the driver air bag deploys from the top side of the steering wheel through the upper steering wheel rim towards the driver,” a ZF Lifetec news release says. “This new installation position of the air bag allows the horizontal spoke, including the hub, to have a seamless, smartphone-like design.”

However, placing the air bag behind a glass screen has left some questioning the safety of the design, contending the air bag deploying through a glass screen would turn it into a weapon.

Motortrend is also skeptical of ZF Lifetec’s safety claims. When asked for more information, the company told Motortrend that, “the driver air bag rotates synchronously with the steering wheel so that the air bag can deploy through the same opening at any steering angle.”

No details past that were provided in order to protect the company’s intellectual property, according to Motortrend.

Motortrend added in its article, “The air bag that deploys is kept behind the screen and folds out and inflates through the gap between the center of the wheel pad and the upper rim edge of the circumference of the wheel, as seen in a demo video from the company’s reveal presentation. The video shows it fold out from the top of the wheel unit in the direction of the driver.

“It’s likely the screen could be a full replacement for other more traditional and common driver-specific displays like the HUD [head-up display] or dial readout typically positioned further in front of the driver, for a more minimalist dashboard layout and perhaps even improved forward visibility out of the windshield.”

ZF Lifetec says in its press release that force-sensitive controls for the vehicle’s entertainment and assistance functions are integrated behind a continuous surface, allowing the design to blend seamlessly into digitally designed dashboards of modern vehicles.

“With this new concept, we are enabling design freedom for steering wheels without compromising safety,” said Harald Lutz, ZF Lifetec head of development, in the release.

The design allows for the possibility of on-demand functions, touch displays, or a central screen, according to ZF Lifetec.

“However, as the steering wheel is also a safety-relevant component in the vehicle, user-friendliness is paramount,” the release states. “Hybrid solutions can therefore also be implemented with this concept. These include, for example, the combination of an alternative rotary switch with a force-sensitive and tactile surface also integrated into the steering wheel as an anchor point, thus enabling the driver to operate the system safely.

“These functions can also be combined with hands-on detection which is a component of current and future steering wheels. A capacitive sensor under the leather surface recognizes whether the driver is merely touching or safely gripping the wheel. This technology is a further module for safe vehicle control.”

Another company is also rethinking air bag design. Autoliv announced earlier this week that it had created an air bag cushion made from 100% recycled polyester that will reduce the safety component’s greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint by 50% at the polymer level.

Testing of the new material demonstrated that the cushion provides equal safety functionality to a standard polyester air bag, according to Autoliv.

The company plans to achieve net zero GHG emissions across its supply chain by 2040.

“We are walking the talk on our climate ambitions at Autoliv, by bringing the first technology to create airbags using 100% recycled polyester fabric,” said Autoliv’s Chief Technology Officer Jordi Lombarte, in the release. “We have successfully proven the technology and are ready to offer it to our customers worldwide.”


Featured image: ZF Lifetec’s steering wheel that deploys an air bag from the top rather than the center. (Provided by ZF Lifetec)

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