Airbag popping. The definitive signal that your journey has ended prematurely. The idea of an airbag was patented by two British dentists in 1919 – I did not ask why and neither should you. In its modern guise, it started taking shape in the ‘50s and early sixties and was first used commercially in the ‘70s.
The idea behind the airbag was similar to the seatbelt – a way to avoid having your body slam into the hard bits of your car during the sudden deceleration caused by a crash. Early airbags were primitive devices, usually activated by a ball bearing held magnetically in a pipe that triggered the airbag when deceleration shook it loose. The bag itself had only one inflation speed – explosive – which could and did cause injuries of its own. Probably less bad than your head connecting with the steering column, but don’t ask about degloving . . .
Today an occupant in a car can have six or more airbags protecting him or her, using smart technology that would match bag/s inflation with the force and direction of the collision. All hunky-dory in a normal car, but what about autonomous cars? In a normal car like you drive now, the seats are arranged so all the occupants sit side-by-side or behind each other facing the direction the vehicle is travelling. It is pretty simple to position the airbags to deal with your typical front or side impact of most accidents. The airbags are fitted in fixed positions, in the steering wheel or dashboard, in the door frames and above the door ledge, because the designer knows where and how you will be sitting during the accident.
The thing about an autonomous car – level 5 requiring no driver whatsoever – is that you don’t have to sit side-by-side facing the front. Your seat could swivel to allow you to converse with your fellow passengers. Most likely the seat would be able to move around as well.
This is all brilliant and you know you would never sit in the normal direction again, just because you don’t have to. But autonomous does not equate with accident-free, so where do the airbags go?
Hyundai has thought about this so you don’t have to, and their solution is called the Hug Airbag. It is mounted in your seat and during an accident, it will cover all angles by simply surrounding you – a gas-filled cocoon that will hug you in place, protecting your head, torso, hips and legs from any impact.
The Hug Airbag is still in early development, but it has already generated seven patents. Knowing Hyundai and its continuous drive to make things better and safer, we can expect this technology to improve exponentially in the future.
Autonomous cars and this amazing airbag are still a few years to wait for us, but even the Hyundai cars currently driven in South Africa meet or exceed the most rigorous safety standards you could want. Why not have a look at the range now available, and test drive the Hyundai of your choice?