External airbag deployed from car door. [Photo by the Daily Mail]Enlarge Photo
In the 2008 live action Speed Racer film, race drivers are saved from imminent death by quick-expanding foam, which turns their cars into giant bouncing balls that deflect harmlessly off walls.
Soon that technology -- or something like it -- could be a reality.
TRW Automotive is designing external airbags, which it hopes to have in production cars by the end of the decade, the Daily Mail reports.
The bags would deploy from a car's side sills in 20 to 30 milliseconds, and would be triggered by signals from radar-based sensors or cameras.
The bags being tested are 78.7 inches long, 27.5 inches high, 5.9 to 7.8 inches deep, and have a capacity of 70.6 cubic feet.
The external airbags have been under development for about three years, with some funding from the European Union.
If the tests are successful, TRW hopes to install its new airbags in the rocker panels of German luxury sedans before the end of the decade.
This isn't the first time a company has tried to make roads safer with external airbags.
Pedestrian airbags debuted at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show on the 2013 Volvo V40. If the car collides with a pedestrian, the trailing edge of the hood pops up and a U-shaped bag deploys from underneath to cushion the impact.
The Dutch Cycling Federation had previously lobbied for this type of airbag, hoping it would prevent fatalities.
A group of Japanese engineers working off a similar concept essentially replaced a golf cart's front bumper with an inflated airbag to soften the blow of collisions in city traffic.
Soon, cars may be able to protect their occupants -- and the people they hit -- with a phalanx of airbags. Maybe the car industry will perfect jump jacks next.