Airbags on the Outside of a Car

A research team in Hiroshima, Japan is developing airbags that deploy outside, rather than inside, the car. Their goal is to protect pedestrians who are involved in a crash:

Dubbed iSAVE (sigh…), the airbags deflate rapidly upon impact, just like conventional airbags, to soften the effects of a crash for pedestrians. The prototype car equipped with iSAVE that you can see on the pic above was shown earlier this week and is said to be the first of its kind. iSAVE can be used with electric cars only.

The research team behind the airbags says it expects to sell up to 50 units by year end for 3-wheeled cars before fully commercializing them in 2011 for four-wheeled vehicles. The iSAVE system for 4-wheeled cars will likely be priced at $17,800. (in Japanese) via CrunchGear via DVICE | Photo: Asahi

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Not quite. These airbags can't work like normal interior airbags. Or rather, if they do they won't save anybody.

Conventional airbags inflate when the vehicle hits an object. They inflate so quickly that they are deployed before the occupants are thrown against the hard parts of the interior. If these airbags deploy on impact they could well add to the injuries of the pedestrian. These bags need to deploy an instant before impact if they are to cushion the impact.

OK so that isn't actually impossible, but given the costs of resetting airbags after an accident the system would need to be foolproof in order that it won't push insurance costs through the roof. Cars are now quite easilly written off with minimal damage because the cost of resetting the airbags exceeds the value of the car. If these bags deployed for a false positive the vehicle could end up being written of with no damage other than the cost of the airbags being deployed. Imagine for example somebody steps out in front of your car you steer one way, they jump the other and you narrowly miss them, but the airbags deploy anyway having detected the obstacle. Your car is written off by the insurers because it will cost thousands to reset all those airbags. Would you really want your car to be written off because of this incident?
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@ted -- I think you misunderstand how a conventional airbag works. It inflates rapidly, then immediately begins deflating to soften the impact of the driver against the bag. It happens extremely fast, before the driver comes into contact with the bag.

These external airbags would work the same way. They are not constantly inflated.
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Natey, let's read the quote again, shall we?

"...the airbags deflate rapidly upon impact, just like conventional airbags, to soften the effects of a crash for pedestrians..."

Conventional airbags inflate rapidly upon impact, do they not? Sure, it's great if they deflate afterwards, but that doesn't appear to be the intent of the writer.

If the airbags are already inflated - and one wonders how they are maintained constantly inflated - then deflating so as not to propel a pedestrian is not "just like conventional airbags", but is the exact opposite of a conventional airbag.

Besides that, it's damn ugly.
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