ZF shows new steering wheel airbag design allowing smartphone-like functions with touchscreens, sensors


ZF shows new steering wheel airbag design allowing smartphone-like functions with touchscreens, sensors

The airbag is now a staple of passive safety equipment in a passenger vehicle, with the component assembly having been introduced to cars in the 1980s. The steering wheel has since been all but reinvented, serving not just its primary function of directing the heading of the vehicle, but to also provide an interface between the driver and the vehicle’s myriad functions.

Just a number of months since unveiling its multi-stage load limiter smart seat belt, automotive components manufacturer ZF has unveiled its latest innovation in airbag technology with its new design that deploys the airbag away from the centre, within the hub, in contrast to its traditional position, emerging frontally from the centre of the steering wheel hub.

The new airbag design by ZF deploys the unit from the top side of the steering wheel centre, between itself and the upper section of the steering wheel rim towards the driver. This revised position enables the steering wheel to have a ‘seamless, smartphone-like design’ that allows for force-sensitive controls for the car’s assistance and entertainment functions to be integrated behind a continuous surface, says the company.

ZF shows new steering wheel airbag design allowing smartphone-like functions with touchscreens, sensors

The components manufacturer is going along with the current trend of seamless design in vehicle interiors, where automakers are increasingly eliminating joints and gaps from interior spaces.

The increasing popularity of ambient lighting and display setups in the vehicle cabin is expected to continue into steering wheel design, along with greater integration of human-machine interface functions that will influence future steering wheel design, and the new airbag design by ZF is aimed at facilitating these developments.

Touch-sensitive technology can also be used as safety equipment via a capacitive sensor placed underneath the leather upholstery of the wheel, which can recognise if the driver is merely touching the steering wheel, or securely gripping it.

Further possibilities enabled by liberating the central space of a steering wheel include freely assignable controls, touchscreens or even a central screen are possible with the new airbag design, says ZF, adding that hybrid solutions combining these parts can be implemented.

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