With interior occupants now surrounded by airbags in most new cars, automakers are turning their attention to pedestrian protection, particularly in Europe and Asia where collisions with pedestrians are more common than in North America.
To that end, Volvo is fitting the world's first pedestrian airbag as a standard feature on the all-new Volvo V40.
The new pedestrian airbag will go some way to help further reduce the number of fatalities involving pedestrians, the company says. Every year, 1.3 million people are killed on the world's roads. Currently, pedestrian collisions account for 14% of all vehicle-related fatalities in Europe and 25% in China.
Safety has been a key priority for Volvo throughout its 85 year history and, in 2008, the company established a goal that: "By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo." To contribute towards that goal, Volvo has introduced various new technologies, including Pedestrian Detection, City Safety and now the Pedestrian Airbag.
The Pedestrian Airbag technology was introduced along with the all-new Volvo V40 in Geneva earlier this year and it will to be fitted as standard to all specifications of that vehicle.
The system is active at speeds between 20 and 50 km/h, which should make it highly effective as 75% of all collisions involving pedestrians take place at 40 km/h or less, according to Volvo.
The most serious head injuries involving pedestrians and cars are caused by impact with the hard structure under the hood, the windshield's lower edge and the A-pillars. So these were the main areas on which Volvo's engineers focused in developing its Pedestrian Airbag Technology.
"The airbag has two functions. Firstly, it raises the hood to create distance (from the harder surfaces beneath), and secondly it cushions the impact around the hard parts of the area near the windscreen," explains Thomas Broberg, Senior Technical Advisor Safety, Volvo Car Corporation.
Seven sensors embedded in the front of the car transmit signals to a control unit when the car comes into contact with an object. The control unit evaluates the signals and if it registers what it interprets as a human leg the pedestrian airbag, mounted beneath the rear edge of the hood, is deployed.
The hood hinges are each equipped with pyrotechnic release mechanisms which, when the system is activated, pull out a pin and release the rear of the hood. At the same time, the airbag is activated and starts filling with gas, which only takes a few milliseconds.
During the inflation sequence the airbag raises the hood by 10 centimetres and it stays in the raised position.
The added gap between the hood and the hard components in the engine compartment gives space for the hood to deform, creating a damping effect when it is hit by a pedestrian.
In its inflated position, the airbag covers the entire windscreen wiper recess, about one-third of the windscreen and the lower part of the A-pillars. The entire sequence from activation of the system to full inflation takes a few hundredths of a second.
According to a Volvo Canada spokesperson, there are currently no plans to offer the V40 for sale in Canada. But as is the case with most such technologies, it's highly probable that the Pedestrian Airbag will be employed in other Volvo models in the future.