Automotive executives, suppliers and regulators have been promising for years autonomous driving technology will prevent the vast majority of accidents. Alone, however, is not enough, and neither is the old airbag. The concept of Life Cell makes its way: that's what it is.
Although AI behind the wheel would be more reliable than humans, autonomous driving systems are absolutely unable to eliminate all accidents, especially in the early stages of their use.
Occasionally tomorrow's cars will crash and injuries will occur. But, as mentioned, our best defense, the trusty airbag, may not work as well to protect us if the open-plan interiors we've seen on the concept cars are a reality. The airbag will need a makeover.
Life Cell, the evolution of security
Modern airbags make early 70s examples look primitive. They receive input from dozens of safety sensors to adjust inflation based on occupant size, seat position, seat belt use and accident severity.
In today's cars they are strategically placed around our seats to protect the chest, pelvis, neck and knees in the event of an accident. But these airbags are designed for people sitting upright facing forward, not for those lying down or facing the back seat. In other words, the most proven cab models for the autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.
Anticipating this future, the Swedish company Autoliv has devised an airbag prototype that will protect occupants regardless of their orientation. It is called Life Cell.
An inflatable shield
Life Cell is, in fact, a “monobloc” shell that comes out directly from the headrest and from the side cushions of each seat, forming a padded shield.
More: a kind of cage around the passenger's upper body. The current design phase of Life Cell aims above all to identify the extent of protection and the operating mechanism.
It will make sense in level 5 self-driving vehicles. I don't expect to see this in production vehicles for quite some time, but it could inspire improvements to current airbags as well.
For example, Autoliv designs a shield bed also for pedestrians, which inflates outwards starting from the windshield, avoiding serious consequences for the head of a hit person.