Have We Entered The Era of The Personal Airbag?

Life is unpredictable and full of different risks. Could personal airbags make us feel safe?

Last week, in the Dutch city of Helmond, a special blue Volvo driving at 40 kilometers an hour (considered the average speed for for bike-car crashes) collided head-on with a bicycle. Upon impact, two large airbags exploded upward and outward from the lower edges of the car's windshield at the same instant that the 'cyclist' - a crash test dummy - slammed onto the hood.

According to TNO Innovation for Life, this crash simulation was a success, because the airbags inflated just as they were supposed to, forming a cocoon-like pillow for the simulated-cycling dummy to land on.

The head and the torso of the dummy, TNO concluded after the crash, were 'properly protected,' and the rigged Volvo's airbags demonstrated that vulnerable road users have a lot to gain if terms of fewer debilitating injuries and fewer deaths if cars start being equipped with external air bags.

TNO is not the only one to believe that the era of airbags everywhere has arrived. Swedish company Autoliv designed the windshield airbags, and Volvo has already incorporated them into its v40, with plans to put them in auto models. Autoliv hopes its products will save 160,000 lives by the year 2020.

In addition, another Swedish firm, Hövding, has been racking up the design awards with its own personal air bag. Worn around the neck like a rather heavy and clunky scarf, the Hövding will also explode on impact, ballooning up and over a bicycle rider's head in order to protect better than an ordinary bicycle helmet can.

Some people, when they hear about the Hövding 'invisible' bicycle helmet (about $500 for a single-collision scarf) tend to smile and shake their heads. Why would a cyclist spend a lot for this expensive, inflatable airbag for around their neck when you can get a regular old bike helmet at many stores - some helmets are even sold in vending machines - for just about $20?

It's mostly about vanity and perceived risk. We all want adventure and the feeling of freedom, whether out on the road, up in the mountains, or catching a wave. As disconnected as most of us remain from nature and natural cycles and rhythms, we're constantly looking for entertainments and diversions that give us a taste of the power of nature, but without the risky downside of accidental death or dismemberment.

So companies like Ferrino, which makes an airbag pillow to protect skiers from getting crushed in an avalanche, and IPJ with its Impact Jacket which inflate to keep internal injuries at bay after wipe outs, seem to be onto something.

Since most of these safety devices use the global warming gas CO2 in small cartridges for inflation, I am wondering if there's any way we can reduce climate change by all have lots of personal airbags, everywhere. It's a thought.

Have We Entered The Era of The Personal Airbag?
Volvo v40s have them. Helmet haters can buy them. Equestrians and extreme skiers can get them. Have we entered the age of the personal airbag?

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