Ford Motor Co. Fits Airbag Size to Occupants
Ford Motor Co. is developing technology to make its Personal Safety System even more effective with new airbag and safety belt technology that more closely matches the safety systems to the size of occupants and severity of a crash. Ford is showing a preview of the new technology at this year's North America International Auto Show in Detroit. Today's airbag and safety belt systems are designed to meet the needs of an average-sized 150-pound adult. Ford now is working on ad-vancements to its Personal Safety system to allow it to distinguish between a child, small adult or teenager, average adult or large adult - and to deploy restraints accordingly. The improvements will help to further reduce the risk of real-world fatalities and serious injuries for customers. The patented Personal Safety System is today available on the Ford Taurus, Windstar and Crown Victoria, the Mercury Sable and Grand marquis, and the Lincoln Town Car. Later in 2002, it will become standard equipment on the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs. The system will eventually be available on all Ford Motor Co. cars, trucks and SUVs. Today, the Personal Safety System uses a series of sensors to analyze accident and occupant condi-tions and determine how the airbags and safety belt restraints should respond for occupant protection in frontal crashes. In the future, Ford is developing technology that could take into account not only crash severity, front seat safety belt use, and how close the driver is to the steering wheel, but also a person's size. New sensors in the vehicle seats will be able to differentiate between a child, small adult, medium adult and large adult. Today, the airbags in the Personal Safety System can deploy at two different stages, along with safety belt pretensioning and load-limiting seat belt retractors to manage crash forces on occupants. Pretensioners tighten the safety belt, while load-limiting seat belt retractors absorb an occupant's energy by allow-ing a controlled release of seat belt webbing during a crash event. In the future, the system could include adaptive tethered air bags and adaptive load limiting seat belt retractors to give different levels of energy management for different-sized passengers. Tethered air bags allow a smaller portion of the bag to be used when appropriate for smaller occupants or those seated close to the steering wheel. The full-sized bag is still available for large-sized occupants or in severe crashes. A tethered air bag has strings tied inside limiting how big the bag can become when de-ployed. If the sensors determine that a full-size bag is needed, the "strings" are released. The size of the bag depends on such factors as crash severity, safety belt usage and pas-senger size. Depending on accident conditions, no bag, a tethered bag or full-sized bag could be deployed. If a child were in the passenger seat, an airbag would not be deployed under any conditions. Research is also underway to develop a system that could sense whether or not a passenger is out of position. That could become an ad-ditional factor in determining restraint deployment.