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Is your steering wheel looking a little fat? There are a number of reasons why steering wheels have beefed up over the years, but one of the biggest reasons is because of airbags. Inflatable restraint system manufacturer TRW is looking at ways to change that, and it may have a whole new type of airbag ready to go.
Rather than having the airbag deploy from behind the steering wheel, TRW has created a system in which the airbag comes down from the roof. This opens up a whole new world of automotive design when it comes to the interior space directly in front of the driver and passenger. Dashboards and steering wheels could become far more interesting than they are now.

You would expect a system like this to be far off, but TRW has been working closely with an un-named European automaker. Said automaker has just awarded TRW a production contract, which means roof-mounted airbags could arrive sooner than you think.
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TRW Introduces Innovative Roof Airbag Technology

LIVONIA, Mich., May 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. (NYSE: TRW) has today unveiled its new 'bag in roof' airbag system which replaces passenger airbags typically mounted in the instrument panel. The new airbag can help to mitigate passenger injuries and can allow for improved interior design aesthetics, ergonomics and functionality while saving space in the instrument panel.

Dirk Schultz, engineering director for TRW's Inflatable Restraint Systems commented: "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 design and configuration of airbags. TRW's new roof airbag system is a unique development and studies have shown that such a technology provides enhanced styling flexibility for future vehicle interiors in combination with excellent restraint performance."

In addition, this new design concept enhances development efficiency: by eliminating the need to package a passenger airbag in the instrument panel, TRW's bag in roof design can significantly reduce the development costs of the dashboard as there is no need to develop a specific 'door' that opens with the airbag deployment. It is also functionally compatible with a wide range of vehicle architectures.

The airbag unit comprises a cushion and a gas generator which supplies the gas to the cushion in the event of an impact. The product offers easy assembly with opportunities for standardization as some of the components are common to all applications.

TRW has undertaken pre-development work for the bag in roof technology for several years, and over the previous two years in close collaboration with a major European vehicle manufacturer. This has resulted in the award of a significant production contract with the vehicle manufacturer.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Maybe for SUVs or vans? Automotive roofs generally aren't that thick... I also think that manufactured might be concerned with the increased weight that these units and their supporting structures would put up high in the vehicle - not good for CoG. Another thing to think of is how these systems would act in the even of a roll-over crash or something similar...
        LUSTSTANG S-197
        • 4 Years Ago
        Should the roof cave in a rollover, the airbag could do more harm than good. Other factors to consider are how this would effect cost/cost of repairs, weight, and the driver visibility and aerodynamics that are sure to be affected by the need of a thicker roof.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just in case you want to drive up side down.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Air bag on the roof? My mother-in-law is only allowed on the roof!
      • 4 Years Ago
      On one hand, I'd love a return to thin steering wheels (love my MOMO Mod 07, on a car that never had an airbag to begin with). But on the other, stuffing an airbag deployment system in the roof would add weight to where you want it least -- up high. Then again, who knows. I don't know what an airbag systems weighs. Maybe it's inconsequential.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 4 Years Ago
      That's cool but cars are already seriously lacking side and rear visibility now that roof crash standards have kicked in. This will make the problem worse i think.. Man, i just don't feel confident sitting in new cars these days.
      LUSTSTANG S-197
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just what we need, more friggin' airbags. At this rate, we will all be driving around in cars that look like bubbles, cost a small fortune, and weigh 6,000 lbs. I have a feeling that it is only a matter of time before the gubmit mandates this.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Alphonso Carioti
      • 4 Years Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just waiting for Nerf to come out with a full car...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I can see a benefit in the overhead's direction of deployment; typical airbags are kinda violent.