Ford has launched an inflatable seatbelt, claiming the device is the first-of-its-kind.
Combining a seatbelt with an airbag the technology, designed primarily to reduce injuries among both young and elderly passengers, will go into production on the next-generation Ford Explorer SUV, next year.
The inflatable seatbelt will then be rolled out in models wordwide, says Sue Cischke, the car maker’s safety chief.
Under development since 1998, the system is designed specifically for the back seat, where passengers more prone to injury are likely to sit.
While the belt initially looks much like a conventional 3-point harness, it’s actually a bit larger and softer. That’s because it hides a balloon-like airbag that runs the length of the upper portion. When the vehicle’s crash sensors detect an impact, typically of at least eight mph, a highly compressed mixture of argon and helium gas is released from a small tank under the seat. By comparison, a conventional airbag uses a pyrotechnic inflator, so the gases would be too hot to hold so close to the chest.
The gas pumps through a special, pipe-like buckle into the belt, the airbag bursting through its seams and fully inflating in less than 40 milliseconds. The system, said Paul Mascarenas, Ford’s vice president of engineering, “is designed to spread crash forces across five times the body area that traditional seatbelts do". Ford isn’t saying how much it will charge for the inflatable belts but in early option form, a source hints it is likely to be between £150 and £200.Lexus will offer something similar on the upcoming LF-A, but that system is designed to bolster the primary airbag system in the event of an extremely high-speed crash in the supercar. Meanwhile, similar technology is becoming commonplace in the world of business aviation.