Smart Passive Safety Technologies in Cars – what they are and how they save lives

Safety is not optional: The vehicle’s passive safety ecosystem of today takes into consideration both the occupants inside the car and the pedestrians outside the car.

Updated: Jan 13, 2021 5:02 PM
continental passive safety features

Where do the safety technologies stand in a car buyer’s mind? A decade ago, perhaps, a typical car buyer in India would forgo essential safety technologies like ABS or driver airbag to save the overall vehicle cost. In today’s scenario, has this mindset changed? To an optimistic extent, yes, we as an industry are influencing the change to dispel the wrong notion that safety technologies are premium features. On the safety legislation part, the Indian government has been proactive in its effort to curb on-road fatalities by regulating new vehicle safety norms. This came in the form of mandatory ABS in all the vehicles upwards of 125cc of engine capacity and compulsory airbags in all the passenger cars.

Today, a car includes basic features such as wing mirrors, airbags, and seatbelts, driven by policy and consumer demand. The message is clear – safety is not optional.

The average consumer is looking beyond a mere transportation device. The car of today, and the future, needs to be safe as well as comfortable. Most reviews of cars in the media feature safety ratings prominently.

While many of the new-age cars come equipped with basic safety features, let us delve into the passive safety system. Passive safety systems help in minimizing the consequences of an accident by reducing the risk of injury during the time of impact, e.g., airbags and seatbelts.

New Developments

The idea of single or dual airbags in a car today is outdated. Airbags have evolved in their role to protect the occupants; they are installed not just on the dashboard of the vehicle but also on the doors and inner side of the cabins to protect rear seat occupants too. As the number of airbags increases in a car, Airbag Control Units (ACU) support in handling more content and prompt communication with other components. ACU detects and evaluates the intensity of accidents. Based on the assessment, they trigger action to appropriate systems. However, airbags have helped protect the occupants from severe injuries, but they are not always 100% accurate. There are instances of occupants getting hurt because of their position in the car when the airbag is deployed.

Now, with OcSM (Occupant Safety Monitor), this technology finally sees a much-needed evolution. The sensor-based technology can sense the position of the occupants inside the vehicle and dynamically adapt airbag deployment to ensure the occupant is adequately protected. For example, if the driver is seated too close to the steering wheel (airbag deployment point), in case of a crash, the passenger may hit the steering wheel before the airbag is deployed correctly. The innovative OcSM solution provides real-time information about the occupant position to the safety control units so that airbag deployment can be optimized.

Safety Domain Control Unit (SDCU) enables high-end safety applications like OcSM. An SDCU has several additional functions specifically designed to reduce the risk of an accident and limit the damage in the first and later phases of an accident. The one attribute that makes it so effective is that it integrates information from forward-looking environment sensors. This makes it possible to estimate the severity of an accident before it occurs and to condition the restraint systems accordingly. The system can react more quickly and can serve as a fallback level so that the vehicle can be brought into a safe state if the main automated functions fail.

One of the prominent reasons for accidents is tires. They are constantly in contact with the outside environment and are more prone to damages. To mitigate the risk of accidents in such cases, Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) measures the pressure inside a tire directly, transmits the reading, and displays it. The driver is alerted of a critical situation by means of a corresponding signal.

The TPMS takes the reading directly on the wheel. Battery-fed sensors mounted on the rim and integrated into the valve measure the tire’s inflation pressure and send a high-frequency signal with coded information to a receiver. Special software in the control device then processes the data received and shows it on a display on the instrument panel.

Also read: How life-saving tech ABS, ESC will drive Continental’s India story: A visit to the Manesar plant

Passive Safety Systems also take into consideration those who are outside the vehicle. The obstruction. Many cars have notorious blind spots. We’ve all experienced that moment of taking a turn and having a moment of blind faith that there was nobody in the blind spot.

In India, where we have several obstructions on the street, there is a need for a Contact Sensor System. This technology recognizes impacts and can differentiate these, and thus guiding the driver to make more informed decisions. This sensor-based technology can also make automated parking much safer, help in recognition of the road condition, detect approaching emergency vehicles. For those who park their car outdoors and come out to find scratches all over it, the contact sensor also helps in the detection of vandalism.

But there are times when an accident is unavoidable. It could be the culmination of various things, but it does happen. Passive safety technologies like Pressure-Based Pedestrian Protection System helps to reduce the risk of death or severe injury to the pedestrian from hitting the hood and underlying engine block. The pedestrian protection sensor consists of a flexible air tube that is laid across the entire width of the car in its front bumper. The tube is situated directly behind the foam block that is fitted at the front of the vehicle to absorb impact energy. Standardized pressure sensors (pSAT) are installed at either end of the air-filled pressure tube.

The vehicle’s passive safety ecosystem of today takes into consideration both the occupants inside the car and the pedestrians outside the car. These safety technologies are also forming the basis for autonomous driving.

Of course, there are many challenges yet to achieve level 5 of autonomous driving, and safety is of utmost importance. A vehicle will require multiple redundant passive safety technologies to ensure that the cars, occupants, and pedestrians remain in a safe state even in an occurrence of an accident.

Author: Sudeepth Puthumana, Head of Engineering, Passive Safety & Sensorics business unit, Continental Automotive India

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent those of The Indian Express Group or its employees.

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