DEARBORN -- 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.
Faces of Ford
Dr. Saeed Barbat – Safety Manager Develops Technologies, Tools and Tests While Tracking Trends
The development of innovative crash protection features such as Ford Motor Company’s new rear inflatable seat belts is anything but routine for Saeed Barbat, manager of Passive Safety Research and Advanced Engineering and father of three. Knowing that his work will help protect people – including those near and dear to him – drives Barbat to new levels of innovation and excellence day after day.
“I love that we’re developing safety technologies that help protect against serious injuries and reduce fatalities. Ultimately, what we do helps improve people’s quality of life,” Barbat said. “It’s very dynamic work, never routine, and every day there are new challenges to address.”
Since 1991, Barbat has helped pioneer a number of Ford’s safety technologies and the predictive, analytical and experimental tools applied to vehicle safety development. Shortly after joining Ford, he led the effort to improve head protection, for which he was recognized with a Henry Ford Technology Award and Ford’s Customer Driven Quality Award.
Barbat also steered Ford’s vehicle compatibility research, and represented Ford in working groups and meetings on this topic with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The work led to the use of the industry’s first “blocker beam” in large vehicle bumper design, starting with the 1999 Ford Excursion and 2001 F-250 and F-350, which is designed to reduce or inhibit potential over-ride in collisions between trucks and cars. He also developed test procedures to evaluate vehicle compatibility that were adapted by various organizations and regulatory agencies in their research, domestically and internationally.
With 13 U.S. patents and more than 45 technical papers to his credit, Barbat also serves and represents Ford on various Ford and industry committees including the Crash Safety Working Group of the United States Council of Automotive Research that has overseen the execution of safety research associated with alternative fuel vehicles, and the Human Body Modeling Consortium that has overseen development of a computer-modeled human body that will help engineers better understand what happens to regions of the human body during a crash.
Barbat and his colleagues have developed Ford’s full human body model that includes highly detailed internal organs, especially the comprehensive human brain model that has been used to better understand the extent of injuries that can occur during a crash.
“The Human Body Model will help reduce physical testing on component and full-scale levels during vehicle development,” Barbat said. “It will also be used to develop more sophisticated instrumentation that could lead to more human-like crash dummies.”
The data gathered using both actual and virtual crash test dummies help engineers develop and bring to market innovative safety technologies faster than ever and in advance of possible future government regulations.
Barbat also monitors real-world accident data, including vehicle mix, technology and injury trends, as well as infrastructure and regulatory changes and new fuel economy and emissions requirements.
“All of the information we collect from around the world helps determine Ford’s short- and long-term safety projects,” Barbat explained. “We want to save lives and be the world leader in automotive safety.”
Personal Insights and Fun Facts
• Saeed has been married to Nehdal Barbat for 25 years. They have three children, Sally, 24; Selwan, 22; and Justin, 17.
• Saeed earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Baghdad (Iraq) in 1976, and his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics from The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in England in 1980. He also obtained his Ph.D in applied mechanics from The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1990.
• On the weekends, Saeed enjoys social gatherings with friends and trying cuisine from around the world.
• Among Saeed’s most memorable vacations was a trip to Jasper National Park and the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada, in August 2008
Faces of Ford
Ed Desmet – Ford Tech Specialist Bring Unique Perspective to Seat Belt Safety
Ed DeSmet, global safety belt technical specialist in Ford Motor Company’s Restraints Core Engineering department, is a self-described “car guy” who also has been an avid motorcyclist since his college days. He said he’ll never forget when his former father-in-law, who worked for Genesee County Police as the crash investigation reconstruction expert, showed him a graphic, four-inch-thick binder full of motorcycle fatality reports as warning.
“After I finished looking through the binder, he asked me if I still wanted to ride,” said DeSmet. “I said yes and thanked him for making me ride more defensively. I’m always on the lookout for potential hazards and safety concerns whether I’m riding a motorcycle or driving a car.”
One safety concern that has caught DeSmet’s attention over the years is car occupants who still don’t wear their seat belts despite state laws that require it.
“Knowing that I work on a commodity that saves people’s lives is very rewarding,” DeSmet said. “I want to make sure that everyone wears their safety belt. So, making them comfortable, easy to use, and, of course, as safe as possible are my top priorities at Ford, and providing protection for my wife and daughter is my top priority as a husband and father.”
DeSmet’s work on development of Ford’s inflatable safety belt has been especially important to him because it advances the safety for rear seat passengers, particularly children
DeSmet has worked on restraint systems at Ford for more than nine years, starting as a safety belt design and release engineer. Prior to joining Ford, DeSmet worked on safety belt testing, design, manufacturing, benchmarking, research and development, and assembly at suppliers TRW and Autoliv for nearly 11 years.
Among his many career highlights, DeSmet was one of Ford Body Engineering’s technical maturity model award winners this year for new safety belt pretensioner testing methodology, pretensioner benchmarking and specification development.
DeSmet developed the lower seat belt guide for the 2005 Mustang Convertible, and Ford’s first seat-integrated three-point belt system. He also helped develop multiple safety belt technologies that are in Ford vehicles today such as the Excell height adjuster, higher powered pretensioners, and adaptive and digressive load limiting retractors.
In 2006, DeSmet led a global summit with Ford of Europe, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover to commonize global safety belt design specifications and content strategies. He also mentors new safety belt engineers and developed Seatbelt 101 training material for new engineers or non-safety belt engineers.
While safety is his primary concern, DeSmet also keeps an eye on safety belt quality, having developed a global craftsmanship standard for D-ring and height adjuster execution through Ford’s Interior Group. In addition, he developed the global safety belt J.D. Power APEAL linear regression model for the Vehicle Integration team.
“Safety belts have changed as much or more than cars have since I started working on them almost 20 years ago,” DeSmet said. “Safety belts are continuously improving and doing more to help protect people in crashes. Developing requirements and technology needed to deliver world-class safety belts is my driving interest.”
Personal Insights and Fun Facts
• Ed has been married to Amy ReVoir for 10 years. They have one child, Lucy, age 9.
• Ed has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from GMI Engineering and Management Institute (now Kettering University).
• On the weekends, Ed enjoys bicycling, motorcycle riding, watching sports, golfing and relaxing.
• Ed rides a 1992 Honda Nighthawk 750, and has ridden it to Chicago, Toronto and Dayton, Ohio.
• Ed’s favorite pet is his daughter’s tropical betta fish named Finsley.
• Ed says the best Ford vehicle ever made is the Mustang, and plans to get a 2010 GT convertible next year.
• Ed loves visiting far-away tropical places such as Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and his dream vacation is Tahiti. When traveling, he finds it interesting to see how and what locals drive, and how many people still don’t use their safety belts.
Faces of Ford
Steve Rouhana – Ford Biomechanics and Crash Protection Specialist Works to Improve Safety for All
Dr. Steve Rouhana, senior technical leader for passive safety in Ford Motor Company’s Research and Advanced Engineering and group leader for Biomechanics and Occupant Protection, likes to joke that he works with a lot of dummies – crash test dummies. But when it comes to protecting vehicle occupants – particularly children – this father of three boys takes his work seriously.
Rouhana is internationally recognized for pioneering research in the area of human response to impact, particularly with regard to abdominal injuries and air bag noise. He has written more than 65 technical papers on basic biomechanical research, crash test dummy development and seat belts.
Rouhana, who joined Ford in 2000 after 17 years with General Motors, is helping Ford lead development of advanced belt systems, including the inflatable belt, in which a small, tubular-shaped inflatable bag can deploy inside a shoulder belt in the event of a crash.
“I know the fear of parents for their children’s safety,” said Rouhana, who has three sons. “In our development of the inflatable belt, we’ve insisted on taking great pains to test possible side effects of the belt system vis-à-vis the forces involved in a crash.”
One day, during the technology’s first year of development, Rouhana saw something in his rear view mirror that spurred him and the team to create a special test to determine if there would be risk of unintended injury by the inflatable belt.
“I was driving home from a family vacation in 2001,” Rouhana said. “My son Jonathan, who was five at the time, fell asleep in his booster seat with his head and neck resting against the seat belt. I realized the team needed to create a dummy test to determine the effect of the belt’s air bag inflation on a sleeping child in that kind of position.”
The team modified a crash test dummy to simulate the position of a sleeping child, which allowed them to measure the forces of the inflatable belt’s air bag deployment and determine that there would be low risk of injury.
Rouhana also has channeled his parental concern over his children’s safety into the development of an abdominal insert for pediatric crash dummies. Pediatric crash dummies with the more lifelike abdomen will help in analyzing the risk of serious injury to children in car accidents. Independent studies show children ages 4 to 8 are at higher risk for injuries to the spine and abdomen. Ultimately, the data gathered using both actual and virtual crash test dummies may help lead to the development of vehicle restraints that will improve the safety of children.
“This effort furthers Ford’s commitment to help protect families by focusing on one of the most common collision-related injuries among children,” Rouhana said. “It will help us better understand the effects of crash forces on children’s abdomens.”
Several crash dummy components on which Rouhana has worked are now in regular industry use. In addition, a crash test dummy (SID-IIs) on which he worked is in federal regulations and another (WorldSID) is being considered for regulation.
Rouhana, who is working on a master’s degree in pastoral studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and hopes to become a deacon in the Catholic Church upon completion of his studies, considers his work on occupant safety an extension of his spiritual beliefs.
“I have been blessed throughout my life, through no merit of my own, so I want to share those blessings through my work to make the world a better place,” Rouhana said. “My faith is the fundamental driver of my actions.”
Personal Insights and Fun Facts
• Steve is married to his wife, Mary Ellen, and has three sons – Steve Jr., age 25, Matthew, age 17 and Jonathan, age 13.
• Steve graduated magna cum laude from Manhattan College, with a bachelor’s degree in physics, mathematics and religious studies, followed by a master’s degree and doctorate, both in physics, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
• He is working on a master’s degree in pastoral studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and hopes to become a deacon in the Catholic Church upon completion of his studies.
• Steve is chairman of the Occupant Safety Research Partnership of USCAR and was involved with creation of the WorldSID, the world’s most advanced crash test dummy.
• Steve received the U.S. Government Award for Safety Engineering Excellence in 2003, and became a Fellow of the Society of Automotive Engineers in 2006.
• He has been granted five patents and has four more pending.
• Steve has received the award for Best Technical Paper at the Stapp Car Crash Conference on four occasions – twice as primary author and twice as co-author.
• Steve remembers when heroes had no blemishes, life was not so fast-paced (even where he grew up in Brooklyn, New York), and honor, integrity and service to others were more important than “What’s in it for me.”
Faces of Ford
Dr. Srini Sundararajan – Passive Safety Expert Led Development of Ford's New Inflatable Seat Belt
Automotive safety innovations don’t happen overnight. Just ask Dr. Srini Sundararajan, Ford Motor Company’s technical leader on the development of its new inflatable seat belt system – a project that has been in the works for approximately 10 years.
“Combining the functionality of a safety belt and some of the benefits of an air bag into one occupant protection system was easier said than done,” Sundararajan said. “There were many challenges along the way – such as determining the need to inflate through a special buckle and the need to use a special retracting system that could handle a thicker belt. There was much trial and error before we hit upon the right solutions.”
The 21-year Ford veteran has applied his expertise of vehicle occupant biomechanics and advanced restraint development to a number of other safety projects at Ford as well. He led the development and evaluation of the industry’s first comprehensive automatic collision notification system by completing a study of 500 police vehicles in Texas to establish its operational parameters in real-world crash scenerios.
Sundararajan also guided Ford’s development of deployable door trim systems designed to improve side-impact protection. The systems exceeded stringent federal expectations for crash protection, and earned Sundararajan a Henry Ford Technology Award for invention and implementation.
An American of Indian heritage, Sundararajan also led innovative biomechanics research on the human cervical spine movement during rear end collisions, which influenced seatback and head restraint designs at Ford. He also led research and development of automatic adjustable head restraints to enhance occupant protection in low-speed rear-end impacts, and a leading orthopedic manufacturer used his research methodology to obtain FDA approval for cervical implants.
In addition to helping protect vehicle occupants, Sundararajan has helped protect pedestrians with his work as well. He led development of an active hood system for pedestrian head protection, and directed Ford’s North American vehicle assessment of proposed global regulations for pedestrian safety.
Sundararajan’s interest in safety began in the aerospace industry where he worked on structural design for safety of helicopter pilots and passengers. He made the transition to automotive, and moved to Michigan from Texas after earning his master’s degree at the University of Texas in Arlington.
“A friend of mine was working in Ford and told me the company was looking for people with crash safety expertise, and I asked ‘does helicopter crash safety count?’ and he said sure,” Sundararajan said. “In both aerospace and automotive, my passion has always been safety.”
Personal Insights and Fun Facts
• Srini has been married to his wife Usha for 12 years. They have one son, Nik, age 7.
• Srini earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas and his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering at Wayne State University.
• Srini is the first person in his family to have sky-dived.
• Srini has walked barefoot on a bed of burning embers – several times.
• Srini is especially proud of coaching his son’s soccer team.
• Srini is a fan of the Detroit Tigers and AC Milan pro soccer team.
• Srini will never forget his trip to the Taj Mahal in India, because it is an engineering marvel.
• Srini remembers when he bought his son’s first car seat.
• Srini drives a Ford Taurus X.