Volvo airbag tech turns 25

2012-10-18 10:24

The first Volvo car equipped with an airbag left the assembly line in 1987 - and since then the company has expanded this technology with several world-firsts. And in 2012 the technology's 25th anniversary was celebrated with the introduction of the pedestrian airbag in the new Volvo V40.

Lennart Johansson, senior manager for Interior safety at Volvo Car Corporation said: "It is the first time airbag technology has been used to help protect vulnerable road users, in this case pedestrians, outside the car.”


Johansson, who was part of the pioneering work in the 1980s, added: "The benefit of modern airbag technology is that it takes very little space and still helps provide a good level of protection that can be optimised for the occupant and the crash situation."

The airbag has been a standard feature in all cars for several years, but in the early motoring days both the technology and its reliability created intense debate.

"Getting an airbag to deploy is not a challenge, but making it deploy at exactly the right moment is," Johansson explained.

The use of sophisticated radar and cameras in recent cars paved the way for the possibility of activating protective safety systems even before the impact if necessary.

The first airbag solutions emerged back in the early 1950s. However, the technology was far from mature. One 1955 patent describes a system similar to today's, but with the significant exception that the driver had to deploy the bag by pressing a button.


The airbag was quickly recognised by many observers as the best solution and some even believed that it would replace the three-point safety belt that was invented by Volvo in 1959.

However, Volvo argued that the best safety result would be achieved by co-operation between the safety belt system and airbag technology.

"More airbags will not necessarily improve the overall safety level. It is important to regard the airbag as part of a systematic approach where the car's structure, the safety belts, the airbags and other details such as the steering column interact to ensure optimum absorption of the collision forces in an accident.”

In 1994, Volvo took the airbag technology further by introducing a side airbag that is integrated in the seat backrest, to help protect the chest in a side impact.

"We took a huge step forward by making the side airbag part of our patented Side Impact Protection System that is integrated in the body structure," Johansson said.


Volvo then introduced the Inflatable Curtain (IC), designed to enhance head protection for both front and outer rear seat occupants in a side impact. In some car models, it also helps protect the occupants in a rollover situation.

Airbag technology has changed a great deal since it was introduced 25 years ago - and Volvo has been one of the key players in the refinement process.

"Airbag performance has been improved significantly. Today's technology is much more adapted to the collision sequence and the way occupants are moved by the crash forces. After 25 years, refining the airbag technology is a vital part of our aim to build the safest cars in the world.”