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One Step Closer to the Passenger Safety, Center Side Airbags


Hyundai Motor Group(HMG) has developed the Center Side Airbag to upgrade the safety of passengers. It keeps the passengers from hitting each other in a vehicle.

Fancy technologies regarding brand-new Active Safety Features are getting unveiled every single day so that we get to anticipate higher level of safety. Still, Passive Safety Systems are valuable enough because they are the ones that save our lives when accidents happen.

The new car assessment programs these days focus on side impact crash when testing brand new vehicles. Some automakers developed a new feature called the center side airbag. The problems here were that the price was not so attractive and the size of the modules hurt the design of the seats.
HMG, however, showcased the latest center side airbag with various improvements.

There is a difference between the HMG’s new center side airbags and the conventional airbags. 
The former keeps the passengers from hitting each other, while the latter is to protect the passengers from the car.
Let’s see how the center side airbag works, and how it is designed. Crash Safety System Engineering Design Team explains everything about it.

The center side airbags hold the passengers tight, protecting them from secondary impacts.

Q. Airbags deploying between the passenger seats sounds a bit unfamiliar to us. Could you elaborate?

Hyockin Kwon Research Engineer: This airbag is installed inside the driver’s seat and will deploy once the impact is sensed. It is to hold the passenger tight, keeping them from rolling over.

The essence of the feature is called the ‘Tether’. It minimizes the movement of the passengers by cocooning the body, and this would lessen the impact of a collision. 

Tether looks quite simple on the outside, but we tried to extend the length or change its position to increase its performance. Besides, we had a hard time not to violate the other current patents.

HMG’s center side airbags are relatively smaller and lighter than the competitors.

Q. It seems that the modules look smaller and lighter than the other competitors’. What are the differences?

Hyockin Kwon: The purpose is the same – to protect the driver and the passengers. But we used a different approach. While others try to hold the passengers as tight as possible, our center side airbags cocoon the passengers and absorb the impact.
One of the advantages of our airbag is that despite its compact module size, it is strong enough to fully protect the passengers.

Yuji Son Senior Research Engineer: In the long run, downsizing is an important issue in the auto industry. When the era of self-driving cars comes, the importance of the size of each module will grow. This is why we started to make every part as small as we could.

The center side airbag deploys even when the driver is alone in the vehicle.

Q. How do the center side airbags work in case of a side-impact collision?

Jaeho Choi Senior Research Engineer: When a side-impact crash occurs, the passenger on the front seat can collide with the driver. The center side airbag can prevent this from happening. It also deploys when there is no one on the front seat because it needs to protect the driver from the rest of the car interiors.

The center side airbags protect small children and fully grown adults altogether.

Q. I heard that the 4th generation advanced airbags have sensors to deploy differently depending on each situation. Did you use a similar system for the center side airbags?

Jaeho Choi: Since the center side airbag cocoons the body of the passenger, it does not need to change the level when it deploys. It will work well even when the passenger is not properly seated.

The center side airbag is stored inside a seat using heat press folding mechanism.

Q. The latest vehicles are already using heated or ventilated seats. How did you install the airbag modules without affecting the size of the seat?

Yuji Son: We had to make the module as small as possible to put it inside the seat, so we used the engineering technique called ‘the heat press folding’. This is to wrap the airbag with non-woven fabric and compress it using heat.

The researchers worked very hard for the better quality.

Q. Did the other competitors’ center airbags act as obstacles for the team?

Hyockin Kwon: We began to develop the center side airbag since 2008, to get prepared for the Euro NCAP Far Side test protocol starting from the upcoming 2020. In the meantime, GM first received a patent for the side airbags in the North American continent market, and other automakers got theirs soon enough.

 So we had to create a small and strong airbag system without violating other patents. We think we succeeded in making an affordable and compact airbag. Thankfully we got good scores from other institutions, and now we are aiming to develop even better ones.

Airbag modules will become smaller as the seats get slimmer.

Q. All this seems like the new airbag system is designed for future vehicles such as self-driving cars. Could you tell us about the next step?

Sunghoon Kim Research Engineer: We are currently working on to develop an airbag system for electric vehicles. We have to make slender car seats, hence the smaller airbag modules. For now, we are trying to make it narrower.

In the era of self-driving cars, there will be an unprecedented airbag system.

Q. Other than the center side airbags, what will be developed in the era of self-driving cars?

Yumi Jung Research Engineer: First, the way people sit in a car will look quite different from now. No one has to drive, and the passengers would be able to read books, rest, or communicate with each other sitting face to face.
 Therefore, we will need a new set of airbags to absorb different kinds of collisions. There are many images of a future self-driving car carrying passengers talking to each other with a table in between. We should think about the new airbag systems that could fit into such vehicles.

Hyockin Kwon: There will be no longer drivers in the future. So, the airbags should be able to protect the passengers regardless of their positions. Many automakers are working on to develop such features as are we.

The role of the airbags will still be huge in self-driving cars, Hyockin Kwon says.

Q. Is there a safety paradigm shift in future self-driving cars?

Hyockin Kwon: The Tesla incidents are hot potatoes in the auto industry, and of course, the importance of passenger safety rose up. Accidents can occur anytime, anywhere. The role of the airbags will still be huge in self-driving cars.

The HMG’s research team who developed the center side airbag

Airbags improve as vehicles evolve. Since the very first airbag came out 41 years ago, tons of engineers have been working hard to make safer cars. HMG’s center side airbag is one of the results.