January 30, 2002

Ford developing advanced airbag deployment sensors

Detroit, Michigan – Ford plans to improve their vehicles’ Personal Safety System with more sophisticated sensors and technologies that can distinguish between a child, small adult or teenager, average adult or large adult, said a company news release. The sensors would deploy airbags and seatbelt tensioners appropriate to the size of the passenger.

Advanced systems may include adaptive tethered air bags and adaptive load limiting safety belt retractors to provide different levels of deployment force for different-sized passengers. Adaptive tethered air bags allow a smaller air bag to be used, when appropriate, for smaller occupants or those seated close to the steering wheel or instrument panel. The full-sized air bag is still available for large-sized occupants or in severe crashes. An adaptive tethered air bag has “strings” tied inside that limit the depth of the air bag. If the sensors determine that a full-size bag is needed, the strings are released. The size of the air bag depends on such factors as crash severity, safety belt usage and passenger size. Depending on accident conditions, no air bag, a tethered air bag or full-sized air bag could be deployed. If a pre-school sized child were in the passenger seat, an air bag would not be deployed, as with Windstar’s system.

Adaptive load limiting seat belts provide different load levels to the occupants depending on the size of the occupant and the crash severity level. For example, a smaller occupant would receive a lower load than a larger occupant. To accomplish this, seat belt webbing is released in a controlled manner to limit the forces on the occupant’s chest.

Adaptive air bag venting is also being developed for the next generation Personal Safety System. A vent on the back of the air bag module can be opened to release, or vent, appropriate amounts of air and keep it from entering the air bag itself. This creates a less powerful air bag and is another way to allow tailoring of the bag to the individual and the severity of the crash.

The first generation of Ford’s Personal Safety System is currently available on the Ford Taurus and Crown Victoria, and the Mercury Grand Marquis. The second-generation system with occupant classification is available on the Ford Windstar and the Lincoln Town Car. Later in 2002, it will become standard equipment on the Ford Explorer. The system will eventually be available on all Ford Motor Company cars, trucks and SUVs.

The second generation Personal Safety System includes:

  • Pretensioners in the safety belt system that can tighten the driver and right front passenger safety belts, reducing slack in the safety belts system, and enhancing the overall effectiveness that the safety belt system provides.

  • Energy management retractors – also known as load limiters – that limit the force on the occupant chest from the safety belt during a high-severity crash event by allowing a controlled release of webbing from the retractor.
  • Dual stage air bags that, depending on the crash severity, offer two energy levels of air bag deployment.

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