GERMANY: Device detects accidents before they happen

University researchers helped develop the air bag - a vehicle safety device that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives - but now they have created a prototype that protects drivers and passengers, just before a collision occurs.

Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability has teamed up with major automobile manufacturers including Volkswagen, Toyota, Skoda, Fiat and Renault to develop the device. It has a multi-directional camera monitor system surveying 20 metres around a vehicle that can identify a side collision risk 200 milliseconds before impact, for instance a truck swerving out of lane on a motorway. Its on-board computer heats a shape-memory alloy, triggering a spring pushing steel bolts fixed within the seats towards car doors, where metal boxes also automatically fall into place.

"The system of the bolt and the metal box stabilises the car door and absorbs energy on collision," said project manager Björn Seipel of the Fraunhofer Institute. Seipel stressed that the system automatically boosted the side-protection strength of cars threatened with such accidents, protecting them from crash impacts.

The on-board mini-cameras work with radar sensors to continually scan the environment around a vehicle, with the data being analysed by computer: "During the journey, the system has to distinguish moving objects - meaning other cars that could potentially cause an accident - from stationary objects such as houses or trees," said the Fraunhofer Institute's Dr Dieter Willersinn in a European Commission report on the project.

Its researchers have benefited from funding from the European Union's Sixth Framework Programme, in this EUR29 million (US$45.7 million) Advanced Protection Systems (APROSYS) project. The Commission claims the system "will soon find its way to showrooms".
More information on the APROSYS site