APART from some faulty Takata devices, there’s no doubt airbags save lives.

They deploy in a millisecond and cushion vehicle occupants to some degree.

But German supplier ZF is working on what it says is additional and better protection: it is developing external crash safety airbags.

Yes, airbags that deploy outside the vehicle to take the brunt of the impact before the standard bags inside the car pop into action.

And it says the external bags could make their way to production in as little as two years.

The company showed off its product at the recent Airbag 2018 Symposium in Germany.

It’s about three times the size of a standard interior airbag, and uses multiple inflators.

ZF developed the concept system for the side of the car, which would deploy in the event of a side-impact crash — and tests showed it could reduce injury severity by up to 40 per cent.

It is, in effect, an extra crumple zone.

airbag - airbumpa2 Edited - Airbags for the outside of cars in two years

However, it’s a complex device that needs a computer, sensors, cameras and lidar (light detecting and ranging) to figure out that vehicle B has run a red light and is about to whack into your car.

It needs to understand precisely when to deploy the external airbag(s).

Should it fail to deploy because the software and hardware are too conservative, it becomes useless.

Too enthusiastic and all manner of scenarios come to mind.

Imagine parking too close to something and a giant airbag deploys without notice; a cyclist stopping close behind at a traffic light; a mum with a trolley coming too close in the shopping centre car park. Or a dog peeing against a wheel being suddenly bumped several metres sideways.

However, ZF said it’s pretty confident its software and array of technology would know the difference.

The technology detects an impending impact and deploys the airbag in just 100 milliseconds, it says, and the airbag would be fully inflated before any impact with an  object or another car.

The company says it will also continue to adapt to self-driving car trends and rethink how to keep occupants safe inside.

One scenario ZF imagines is a future where occupants can roam about the cabin or recline back in their seats.

Such changes require new types of passive safety systems, which ZF plans to implement in the future.

It would need a change of law enforcement too.

And getting back to those external airbags, what would they cost to replace? And how much bigger would cars need to be to accommodate the bags and gas bottles?

Well know soon enough.

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Buys

Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.