TRW's roof-mounted airbag. Image: TRW

TRW's roof-mounted airbag. Image: TRW

Airbags were once the scourge of the automotive industry; manufacturers claimed their expense would torpedo new car sales and decimate the automotive industry, while consumers weren’t thrilled about having an explosive charge (indirectly) pointed at their face.

In the twenty or so years since their introduction, airbags have become a standard safety item on all new cars sold, and there’s no denying that they’ve saved thousands of lives. Airbags have become a fairly mature technology, so innovations aren't as prevalent as they were a decade back. That hasn’t stopped TRW, who’s just developed a roof-mounted airbag system for an unnamed European customer.

Dubbed the “bag in roof” airbag system, it works by deploying a single airbag large enough to protect both the driver and front seat passenger. Advantages of the roof mounted design over more conventional dash-mounted designs include both space savings and lower production costs for dashboards. TRW’s Dirk Schulz, engineering director for their Inflatable Restraint Systems division, explained their reasoning behind the new design by saying, “Occupant safety systems are becoming increasingly versatile. With the increasing focus on reducing road fatalities, we need to develop new ways to enhance the protection of occupants – one area of focus is the redesign and configuration of airbags.”

One of the airbag configurations that Schulz references is undoubtedly the “rollover airbag,” designed to protect drivers who neglect to wear seatbelts. The NHTSA is mandating rollover airbags be implemented beginning in 2013, with full compliance across vehicle lines by 2018.

TRW already has a production contract in place for the new roof-mounted airbag design, which has been under development for the past two years. You can expect to see it hit production in 2014 model year vehicles.