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Honda’s advanced new passenger-side airbag is designed to reduce brain and neck injury caused by twisting acceleration of the head; the company will begin to fit the new airbag in 2020. (Honda)

Honda ready with new injury-reducing airbag

Until society gets to the zero-collisions future Honda envisions, the company’s advanced passenger airbag helps to reduce injuries.

Starting next year, Honda will begin fitting vehicles with a new, advanced-design passenger-side front airbag that its engineers said is designed to mitigate brain and neck injuries by cradling the head like a baseball in a catcher’s mitt. The design is particularly effective, Honda said, for angled impacts or when an occupant is not in optimal position when the crash occurs, reducing rotational acceleration of the head that can traumatize the brain.

More than half of all impacts occur at some angle, said Eric Heitkamp, Honda R&D Americas technical leader/principal engineer, crashworthiness, at a media reveal of the new airbag at the company’s safety research facility in Raymond, Ohio. Heitkamp said the airbag was developed by the facility’s engineers in partnership with restraints supplier Autoliv.

The new airbag is comprised of three inflatable chambers, with the two outside portions angling across the dashboard. Connecting the outer chambers is a netlike “sail” panel that first catches the head and slows its forward momentum towards the inflated center chamber, while at the same time pulling in the bag’s outer chambers to envelop the head to reduce twisting and prevent the head from sliding off the airbag, which can happen with conventional designs.

It’s possible the design could be applied to the driver’s-side airbag, Honda engineers said, but it is less-critical for the driver, as the act of piloting the vehicle tends to have the driver more optimally positioned when the airbag inflates.

Beginning in 2014, Honda and many other automakers were rocked by the eventually massive recall of 56 million faulty airbag inflators manufactured by now-bankrupt Takata. Keitkamp said that Honda’s safety labs now conduct more than 400 airbag tests annually, the majority testing for effectiveness on out-of-position occupants, as statistics indicate that of the 37,000 people killed in U.S. highway crashes in 2007, 47% were not wearing a seatbelt.

Physical and simulated research expands
At the Raymond safety research center, Honda is engaged in a wide spectrum of testing that includes full-scale physical crash tests and crash simulations, pedestrian-safety research and restraint-system testing and development. Currently, the facility conducts around 225 physical crash tests annually, said Bryan Hourt, Honda R&D Americas chief engineer - safety, strategy and planning, and a remarkable 30,000 crash simulations.

The facility’s crash-dummy lab opened in 2000 and now boasts 48 dummies in a variety of sizes, as well as a specially-developed pedestrian-impact model. Another portion of the facility tests for pedestrian-friendly designs by simulating the impact of a head on a vehicle hood or the front of the vehicle with legs. In all, engineers gather data from some 2400 crash-dummy “response evaluations” annually.

To help reduce crashes of all kind, Honda said it intends to make its “Honda Sensing” active-safety technology suite standard equipment on all Honda and Acura models by 2022. The system currently leverages a high-mounted mono-vision camera and millimetre-wave radar to provide safety features such as the collision-mitigation braking system (CMBS) that can automatically bring a vehicle to a stop from as fast as 40 km/h (25 mph) to avoid impact with a pedestrian or object.

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