Early airbag designs were bulky, with the steering wheel bag assembly making the wheel look like a hassock with a grab ring. Over the years, however, the inflatable safety devices have become smaller and more compact, and engineers have found more ways to deploy them.
Side curtain and side torso seatbelts help prevent side impact injuries, the Scion iQ has an airbag behind the rear seat for head protection from read end hits, and driver knee bags reduce leg injuries. Front airbags that deploy from the ceiling are now in use, and front passenger airbags have been moved to the top of the dash, leaving the dash free for, among other things, a glovebox.
But now the glovebox is an airbag.
Or at least in the 2015 Ford Mustang, the glovebox door hosts an airbag. Once seen, it’s so obvious that it’s surprising that no one thought of it before.
The glovebox door airbag works as one thinks it might, with an inflatable plastic bladder integrated into the glove box door, providing front passenger knee protection similar to a conventional knee airbag mounted under the instrument panel.
The conventional airbag, however, is made from a fabric, mounted under the dashboard, and initially inflating downward before back towards the passenger, taking time to get to where it needs to be. The glovebox air bag reduces that time by acting directly towards the passenger.
But Ford’s new glovebox airbag system isn’t really a bag at all. It’s a pliable, injection-molded plastic bladder sandwiched between the inner and outer glove box door panels. An inflator fills the bladder when a sufficient impact is detected, extending the entire glove box outer door panel toward the front passenger’s legs, providing cushioning similar to that of a traditional knee airbag. It also distributes the impact load over a larger area than a traditional airbag, and is able to operate at a lower inflation pressure.
The glovebox door airbag system is 65 percent lighter than the conventional bag, a factor important for fuel economy, and the inflator is approximately 75 percent smaller. That allows more design alternatives, allowing the dashboard to be further away from the passenger for a roomier feel, and there are no seams or airbag covers to mar interior panel design.
The new system has been granted 15 patents with more pending, and Ford says that other applications in new locations are being considered. Say goodbye to the fatbag. The glovebox airbag is showing it the door.