Apple Car airbags could save drivers from flying debris

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited June 2021
Passengers of the Apple Car could be safer from injury of objects flying through the windshield in a car accident, with Apple considering various ways to block inbound shrapnel and other items from hitting the vehicle's occupants.

Current car airbags protect passengers from impact, but do little to counter inbound debris.
Current car airbags protect passengers from impact, but do little to counter inbound debris.


The vast majority of vehicle safety measures surround protecting the driver and passenger during the moment of an impact. From reinforcing the vehicle's body to airbags and seat belts, vehicles are designed to keep the humans inside from being majorly hurt.

However, there is one area that current vehicle safety systems cannot typically account for: flying objects. It's reasonable to assume that items hurled into the air from a crash, such as bricks from a wall or shrapnel from another vehicle, could pass through the windshield and potentially hit someone in the vehicle.

While windshields do deflect some of the debris heading its way, as well as lowering or adjusting the velocity of items impacting it, there is always a chance the windshield can fail and for an airborne item to become a major hazard.

Though the object is a factor, a bigger problem will be the shards of glass from the windshield itself that become airborne from an impact, as they could cut or seriously injure occupants.

In a patent granted to Apple by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office on Tuesday titled "Windshield area intrusion control," Apple considers this very scenario, and how a car could be designed to counter it.

Apple's system largely revolves around a reuse of the car airbag, but in a highly specialized way. Instead of cushioning the user, Apple proposes an airbag wall could be put in place that covers the windshield area completely.

An example of two airbags inflating to create a wall in the vehicle.
An example of two airbags inflating to create a wall in the vehicle.


By hiding airbag walls in the roof and the instrument panel, airbags of various designs can be produced to fill up the space and block any items heading for the passengers. The airbag walls can take the blow from the airborne hazard, deflecting it or depleting its energy.

Extra structures could also be incorporated into the design, such as a film across the entire windshield that could hold back items stopped by the airbags.

While useful for sudden impacts, Apple also suggests a stronger version of the system, that takes advantage of the instrument panel. In some versions, portions of the solid instrument panel can swing on a hinged element to flip up and into place, covering a large section of the windshield area.

Though you could imagine the use of airbag walls could push the more solid instrument panel into place, Apple also suggests the use of a pyrotechnic or mechanical actuator to move it. While the former is a very quick and responsive method, the latter may allow the system to be reusable.

Examples of a movable section of the instrument panel creating a wall, and another airbag configuration.
Examples of a movable section of the instrument panel creating a wall, and another airbag configuration.


Originally filed on May 18, 2018, the patent lists its inventors as Alexander M. Zoellner, Arturo Llamazares Domper, Christopher D. Jones, David E. Kingman, Derek C. Scott, Jesse T. Buehler, Rickard Fredriksson, and Stephen B. Lynch.

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while the existence of a patent indicates areas of interest for its research and development teams, it doesn't guarantee the idea will appear in a future product or service.

This is not the only patent Apple has secured related to vehicular safety, and not the only airbag-related one either. In May 2020, it received a patent for "Occupant safety systems," which covered the use of airbag-based cabin dividers to encapsulate passengers in a more openly-designed vehicle.

More famously, Apple has also proposed adding lights to car seats to explain its controls and to warn passengers to buckle up. Seats and seatbelts may also feature alternate airbag designs, automatically reconfigure themselves in preparation of an impact, and may even change to warn drivers of nearby hazards.

Rumors of the development of the Apple Car have frequently been bolstered by patents, which surface at a very regular rate. While potentially years away from release, Apple is reportedly in talks with various car producers to make the vehicle into a reality.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 9
    What about visibility and steering to avoid more collisions after the initial impact. If the airbag is transparent then sure. Otherwise it seems like it could make the accident worse by impairing the driver.  
  • Reply 2 of 9
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    What about visibility and steering to avoid more collisions after the initial impact. If the airbag is transparent then sure. Otherwise it seems like it could make the accident worse by impairing the driver.  
    Interesting point. 

    I’m thinking, in most cases, when the airbags deploy, the car has already come to a dead stop, or is pushing something back with our driver not capable of steering. Regular airbags would obscuring his vision anyway. 

    The difference is that this arrangement might protect the driver from being killed by a fast-moving projectile coming through his windscreen … like the passenger from the other car. 




    edited June 2021
  • Reply 3 of 9
    Rayz2016 said:
    What about visibility and steering to avoid more collisions after the initial impact. If the airbag is transparent then sure. Otherwise it seems like it could make the accident worse by impairing the driver.  
    Interesting point. 

    I’m thinking, in most cases, when the airbags deploy, the car has already come to a dead stop, or is pushing something back with our driver not capable of steering. Regular airbags would obscuring his vision anyway. 

    The difference is that this arrangement might protect the driver from being killed by a fast-moving projectile coming through his windscreen … like the passenger from the other car. 




    Yeah but it’s near impossible for the system to know the difference. How frequently does a person die from a projectile vs how often does a car keep moving after an accident? I’d think visibility and steering is more important. Maybe if the system can detect a catastrophic wreck where steering would be impossible then deploy the extra airbags. Perhaps they can detect when the front axle is broken or the instant something hits the windshield. 
  • Reply 4 of 9
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,647member
    Rayz2016 said:
    What about visibility and steering to avoid more collisions after the initial impact. If the airbag is transparent then sure. Otherwise it seems like it could make the accident worse by impairing the driver.  
    Interesting point. 

    I’m thinking, in most cases, when the airbags deploy, the car has already come to a dead stop, or is pushing something back with our driver not capable of steering. Regular airbags would obscuring his vision anyway. 

    The difference is that this arrangement might protect the driver from being killed by a fast-moving projectile coming through his windscreen … like the passenger from the other car. 




    Yeah but it’s near impossible for the system to know the difference. How frequently does a person die from a projectile vs how often does a car keep moving after an accident? I’d think visibility and steering is more important. Maybe if the system can detect a catastrophic wreck where steering would be impossible then deploy the extra airbags. Perhaps they can detect when the front axle is broken or the instant something hits the windshield. 
    Have you actually been in an accident as a driver where the normal airbag has deployed?  You will NOT be further controlling the car.  You are stunned and lose total awareness for a short while.  I’ve not been in one myself but my wife has and I have talked to others who have.  The normal standard driver side airbag blows out suddenly and explosively in your face, and in most cases your face continues into the expanded airbag momentarily (which is the whole point of them).  

    Also, any airbag deployed to protect the area where the windscreen is will not stay inflated for more than a short while.  If you do regain your senses and need to somehow control the car still, the airbag will no longer be obstructing the view.  (Broken windscreen or other effects of the accident may be obstructing it, and the car may be broken enough in the front that you cannot control it anyway, but the problem won’t be obscured vision by the windscreen airbag as described. 
  • Reply 5 of 9
    hucom2000hucom2000 Posts: 150member

    I keep reading about these small improvements of existing inventions and ideas. It seems like it's the wrong approach if you want to re-invent something and create a break-through product.


    I don't quite understand yet either, why Apple wants to be in this market?


    How do they plan to re-imagine this thing called "car" with all its dependancies, such as laws, roads, infrastructure, people's habits, etc.?Comparatively, a phone had very few such dependancies. That was "easy".


    Smartphones prior to the iPhone also didn't work very well. I was very unhappy with my Palm-thing. My car however, does everything I expect it to do. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see it. An airbag's additional feature isn't going to make me run to Apple...

  • Reply 6 of 9
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 894member
    What about visibility and steering to avoid more collisions after the initial impact. If the airbag is transparent then sure. Otherwise it seems like it could make the accident worse by impairing the driver.  
    What makes you think the Apple Car will have a driver? 🤯

    chadbag said: Have you actually been in an accident as a driver where the normal airbag has deployed?  You will NOT be further controlling the car.  You are stunned and lose total awareness for a short while.  I’ve not been in one myself but my wife has and I have talked to others who have.  The normal standard driver side airbag blows out suddenly and explosively in your face, and in most cases your face continues into the expanded airbag momentarily (which is the whole point of them).
    That is a good point - I had the passenger side Airbag go off when I was T-Boned in 2019. That on top of the impact certainly didn't encourage more driving! Good thing I was already braking from a relatively slow speed.
    fastasleep
  • Reply 7 of 9
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,587member
    This car isn't going to need any impact protection because it'll be so heavy with all these inventions that its top speed won't reach that which would injure someone... 
  • Reply 8 of 9
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,058member
    What about visibility and steering to avoid more collisions after the initial impact. If the airbag is transparent then sure. Otherwise it seems like it could make the accident worse by impairing the driver.  
    Driver? Read the patent. If you search, you'll find zero mentions of a "driver" and 78 mentions of a "passenger".
    tipoo
  • Reply 9 of 9
    tipootipoo Posts: 1,120member
    Examples of a movable section of the instrument panel creating a wall and another airbag configuration

    MPDV Electric Van by Canoo - Dwell

    Interesting. Patent drawing looks just like the Canoo delivery vehicle, and Canoo has a skateboard platform that you can put any type of car on. 
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