Airbags are a standard safety feature in cars. Continental has been manufacturing airbag control units (ACU) for the last 35 years, and in that time, 350 million ACUs have been manufactured at the technology company’s sites worldwide. These ACUs meet the highest standards of crash safety and reliable airbag deployment.
The ACU receives signals from so-called pressure satellites, that detect and report the pressure wave of a collision. Continental established the production of these pressure satellites 25 years ago. Since then, the number of airbags in vehicles has constantly increased, saving many lives. Based on its experience, Continental is developing new functions to further optimise the safety of airbags in cars.
Continental will monitor pre-crash safety and occupant monitoring system and will network them more closely in the future to adapt the airbag deployment strategy more closely to the situation, the occupants and their position. The company will use signals from connected control units to enable airbags to deploy faster and in a more controlled way.
The “career” of the airbag in the vehicle controlled a single airbag, while a modern ACU controls up to 48 ignition circuits. Soon, this number is likely to increase. The performance of an ACU varies depending on the segment, vehicle and equipment, meaning such ECUs are flexible.
Depending on the version, the control units offer basic functions for frontal and rear impact protection through front airbags and belt tensioners up to additional functions for updates over-the-air, cyber security and crash detection even during the charging process of electric vehicles. While other ECUs are transforming into software-based products in the reorganisation of the E/E architecture with centralisation and a few high-performance computers, this does not apply to the ACU.
Jochen Zimmermann, Head of Research & Development for Occupant Safety Systems at Continental says, “The ACU will continue to be installed in the safest place in the vehicle in order to guarantee the best performance even after the most serious accidents. In addition, the requirements for the response time are so high that the required latency times for the transmission between decision-makers and actuators are most effectively realized in a dedicated ACU. For Continental, the highest performance in the area of safety is not negotiable.”
The new functions of Continental’s “Allround Protection” include earlier deployment of the airbags to save the occupants inside. This is done with the integration of pre-crash data, which is provided by vehicle surroundings sensors and an Occupant Safety Monitor, which is currently being developed. This provides information about the occupants and their positions inside the vehicle. “This allows us to ignite earlier and, for example, straighten the seat backrest 300 ms before a front crash,” Zimmermann continues.
To control the filling level of the airbag depending on the occupant position, an airbag control valve is in development. This new valve can control the gas flow into the airbag in just a few milliseconds, allowing the exhaust openings in the airbag to be smaller, and the airbag stands longer with the airbag control valve. In the future, airbags will be softened exactly at the time of impact, so that the rebound effect for the passenger is reduced.
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