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Ford's Inflatable Seat Belts – Click above for high-res image gallery

They started out in our steering wheels before taking up residence across the dash. They then migrated to the side of our vehicles and grew to be full-sized curtains. Automakers seem to stick them everywhere, so where else can airbags go to protect our fleshy, organic bodies when metal meets metal in an accident? Ford has the answer: seatbelts.

Today Ford is introducing the auto industry's first* inflatable seat belts, which are scheduled to enter production in 2010 on the next-generation Ford Explorer before being offered across its global lineup. They're designed for rear-seat occupants only (front passengers already have a plethora of airbags) and, in the event of a frontal or side impact, will inflate the belt across a passenger's chest in 40 milliseconds. When expanded, the belt cover five times more surface area of the body than a normal seat belt, which helps better distribute the forces of a crash.

The mechanics of Ford's inflatable belt system use cold compressed gas to inflate the bags, unlike traditional airbags that rely on a heat-generating chemical reaction. The seat belt bags also inflate slower and to a lower pressure than a traditional airbag, mainly because they don't have to cover the distance between the passenger and an object (steering wheel, dash).

This isn't the first time we've heard about Ford's inflatable seat belts. The automaker has been working on the idea for several years and revealed their intentions right before the 2006 Detroit Auto Show. Unfortunately, Ford may not be the first to market with the idea. The Lexus LFA, also set to enter production next year, features an SRS seatbelt airbag as well. We don't know if the next-gen Explorer will beat the LFA to dealer showrooms yet, but Ford can at least take pride in knowing that its technology will be protecting more than just 500 lives.

UPDATE: Videos added after the jump.

  • Ford will debut the auto industry's first-ever production inflatable seat belts, which are designed to provide additional protection for rear-seat occupants, on the next-generation Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle next year. (11/05/09)
  • Ford will debut the auto industry's first-ever production inflatable seat belts, which are designed to provide additional protection for rear-seat occupants, on the next-generation Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle next year. (11/05/09)
  • Ford will debut the auto industry's first-ever production inflatable seat belts, which are designed to provide additional protection for rear-seat occupants, on the next-generation Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle next year. (11/05/09)

[Source: Ford]
Ford Introduces World-First Automotive Rear Inflatable Seat Belt -1

Ford Introduces World-First Automotive Rear Inflatable Seat Belt - 2

Inflatable Seat Belts

Animation 1 - Inflatable Seat Belts

Animation 2 - How They Work

Inflatable Seat Belt Sled Crash Test - 1

Inflatable Seat Belt Sled Crash Test - 2


  • Ford introduces the auto industry's first-ever production inflatable seat belts, which are designed to provide additional protection for rear-seat occupants, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to head, chest and neck injuries
  • Ford's inflatable rear seat belts will debut on the next-generation Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle, which goes into production next year; Ford eventually plans to offer inflatable seat belt technology in vehicles globally
  • Ford's inflatable rear seat belts spread crash forces over five times more area of the body than conventional seat belts; this helps reduce pressure on the chest and helps control head and neck motion for rear seat passengers
  • More than 90 percent of Ford research participants indicated that Ford's inflatable seat belts are similar to or more comfortable than traditional belts, which could help increase the lower rate of rear belt usage
DEARBORN, Mich., Nov. 5, 2009 – Ford Motor Company is bringing to market the world's first automotive inflatable seat belts, combining attributes of traditional seat belts and air bags to provide an added level of crash safety protection for rear seat occupants.

The advanced restraint system is designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries.

Ford will introduce inflatable rear seat belts on the next-generation Ford Explorer, which goes into production next year for the North American market. Over time, Ford plans to offer the technology in vehicles globally.

"Ford's rear inflatable seat belt technology will enhance safety for rear-seat passengers of all ages, especially for young children who are more vulnerable in crashes," said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environmental and Safety Engineering. "This is another unique family technology that builds on our safety leadership, including the most top safety ratings of any automaker."

Safer and more comfortable
Advances in air bag inflation and seat belt construction methods have enabled Ford and its suppliers to develop inflatable seat belts that are designed to deploy over a vehicle occupant's torso and shoulder in 40 milliseconds in the event of a crash.
In everyday use, the inflatable belts operate like conventional seat belts and are safe and compatible with infant and children safety car and booster seats. In Ford's research, more than 90 percent of those who tested the inflatable seat belts found them to be similar to or more comfortable than a conventional belt because they feel padded and softer. That comfort factor could help improve the 61 percent rear belt usage rate in the U.S., which compares to 82 percent usage by front seat passengers, according National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

"Ford is pioneering inflatable seat belt technology to help enhance crash safety protection, while encouraging more people to buckle up with a more comfortable belt," said Paul Mascarenas, Ford vice president, Engineering, Global Product Development.

In the event of a frontal or side crash, the inflatable belt's increased diameter more effectively holds the occupant in the appropriate seating position, helping to reduce the risk of injury.

Vehicle safety sensors determine the severity of the collision in the blink of an eye and deploy the inflatable belts' air bags. Each belt's tubular air bag inflates with cold compressed gas, which flows through a specially designed buckle from a cylinder housed below the seat.

The inflatable belt's accordion-folded bag breaks through the belt fabric as it fills with air, expanding sideways across the occupant's body in about the same amount of time it takes a car traveling at highway speed to cover a yard of distance.
The use of cold compressed gas instead of a heat-generating chemical reaction – which is typical of traditional air bag systems – means the inflated belts feel no warmer on the wearer's body than the ambient temperature. The inflatable belts also fill at a lower pressure and a slower rate than traditional air bags, because the device does not need to close a gap between the belt and the occupant.

"It's a very simple and logical system, but it required extensive trial and error and testing over several years to prove out the technology and ensure precise reliable performance in a crash situation," said Srini Sundararajan, safety technical leader for Ford research and advance engineering.

The inflated belt helps distribute crash force energy across five times more of the occupant's torso than a traditional belt, which expands its range of protection and reduces risk of injury by diffusing crash pressure over a larger area, while providing additional support to the head and neck. After deployment, the belt remains inflated for several seconds before dispersing its air through the pores of the air bag.

Ford's safety leadership record continues to grow
The inflatable seat belt debuting on the next-generation Ford Explorer continues Ford's record of safety innovation. Ford today has more 5-star U.S. government ratings and "Top Safety Picks" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety than any other automaker.

Ford was the first automaker to introduce seat belts in 1955 and led the way in making driver and front-passenger air bags standard in most vehicles by 1993.

This year, Ford introduced radar-enabled Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning with Brake Support and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA). These technologies – introduced on the new 2010 Ford Taurus and Fusion – help drivers avoid potential dangerous crash situations using radar to detect the relative position of other vehicles and warn the driver with a combination of visual and audio alerts.

Ford's other recent seat belt and air bag innovations include the industry-first BeltMinder system in 2000, which the U.S. government credited with increasing front belt usage by 5 percent in Ford vehicles. On the 2002 Explorer, Ford launched the industry's first rollover-activated side curtain air bags – called Safety Canopy – as well as Roll Stability Control technology that goes a step beyond traditional stability control systems by helping measure and prevent side-to-side skidding and dangerous situations that could lead to rollovers.

Ford also introduced on the 2009 F-150 and 2010 Taurus some of the industry's first pressure-based air bag technologies that help deploy side air bags up to 30 percent faster.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      General Aviation airplanes have had these for about 5 years now. They are actually pretty standard now.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Good job Ford!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Poor Matt. He has a crush on Alan Mullaly's daughter, but Alan won't let her date Matt. This is how Matt vents.By trolling on Ford threads.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Too funny!
      • 5 Years Ago
      It would be awesome if they fill it with Popcorn Kernals and then once the accident is done the kids could enjoy a quick snack of fluffy popcorn
        • 5 Years Ago
        Looks like someone is too young to remember the SNL skit...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Put down the crack pipe and back slowly away from the keyboard...
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Ford can at least take pride in knowing that its technology will be protecting more than just 500 lives." +1 Ford
      • 5 Years Ago
      If they really want to save more people on the road they shouldn't patent this innovation (or at least let other manufacturers use it for free) like that Volvo guy who invented the seatbelt.

      Also I noticed when I flew CX last time, they had these airbag things installed on every single seatbelt too.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Introduce my new idea

      Airbags jump belt
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm sure Mercedes showed something like this a few months ago as well.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I thought Lexus was first with seatbelt airbags in the LFA that was released last month.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Mercedes also showed their inflatable seat belts , the question is which will start producing the cars first.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Really? I don't ever remember being able to buy a car with seatbelt airbags. It's not about who came up with what first, it is the fact that Autoblog never reports much of anything with any accuracy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Then don't go on autoblog. Simple as that. The point of headlines is to get people interested enough to read the whole article... mission accomplished.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The LFA was *shown* last month. It won't even enter production until next *year.* RTFA.
        • 5 Years Ago
        WRONG... Ford come up with this YEARS ago... before the LFA had even been thought of.
      • 5 Years Ago
      note: not that i'm against this ... seems like a good enough idea to me.

      other note: if you haven't used a belt-through-the-base child seat (only booster seats which run the belt over the entire seat and occupant are shown) (and all infant and 5-point harness toddler seats are belt-through-the-base, though you can use the LATCH belt and hooks instead of the vehicle's belt), then my comment might not make much sense. the thing about them is that there is very little room for the seat belt to be threaded through because of course seat belts have always been very thin. fitting an inflated belt in that same space just isn't going to happen.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Seat belt airbags have been used in general aviation for some time. The have been a retrofit for general aviation aircraft and I know Cirrus has been shipping them for some on their SR line of aircraft.
      • 5 Years Ago
      not that I am against this, but how much weight is this going to add to the vehicle?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Can't imagine it'd be much, but then again it all adds up in the end.
        • 5 Years Ago
        If you add up the weight (and cost) of this setup with the multiple other airbags that will be in the vehicle, all of the seatbelts, abs and tc sensors, and all other safety related components it will be substantial in the end. I am all for safety but frankly I'd rather have a car that is 500lbs lighter and a couple grand cheaper. Give me seatbelts, 2 airbags, abs and that's all I need.
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