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Groundbreaking passenger protection: 40 years ago, Bosch launched the electronic airbag control unit for cars

Caroline Schulke

Caroline Schulke >

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  • Has helped to save some 90,000 lives since its debut.
  • Deploys faster than a person can blink.
  • Goes through more than 1.8 million crash simulations until it is ready for production in today’s vehicle models.
  • Bosch board of management member Kröger: “Bosch is a pioneer in automotive electronics and safety.”
Fahrzeugassistenzsysteme

Stuttgart, Germany – A collision, a loud bang, and the worst-case scenario has been avoided – that’s the easiest way to describe the benefits of an airbag. Playing a key role in this protective “detonation” is the airbag control unit. It functions as the control center for the lifesaving inflatable cushion. Forty years ago, Bosch joined forces with the Daimler-Benz AG to start production of the world’s first electronic airbag control unit – giving a decisive boost to passenger protection. “Bosch is a pioneer in automotive electronics and safety,” says Bosch board of management member Harald Kröger. “The electronic airbag control unit shows what we mean by ‘Invented for life.’” Since the start of full-scale production in December 1980, Bosch has manufactured more than 250 million airbag control units, constantly refining the technology all the while. The company’s accident researchers estimate that since the market launch of Bosch’s airbag control units, the front, side, and head airbags they deploy have helped save some 90,000 lives around the world. This makes them a key component of vision zero: no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic.

Bosch is a pioneer in automotive electronics and safety. The electronic airbag control unit shows what we mean by ‘Invented for life.’

Bosch board of management member Harald Kröger

The right decision in milliseconds

Using internal and external acceleration, yaw-rate, and pressure sensors, a state-of-the-art airbag control unit identifies the type of accident as well as its severity, and deploys the airbag and belt tensioner as needed. In just ten milliseconds – ten times faster than a person can blink – the trigger algorithm interprets the sensor data to determine whether the driver has simply hit the brakes, bumped into a parked car, jumped the curb, or if the vehicle has had a severe collision or is at risk of rolling over. If the situation is dangerous, the system ignites the pyrotechnic gas generator. Within 30 milliseconds, the airbag is fully inflated and can protect the driver and passengers.

Today’s vehicles come with as many as nine airbags installed, which can be deployed individually depending on the accident scenario. Following a collision, the system also sends a signal to cut off the fuel supply, or, in electric vehicles, to disconnect the high-voltage battery. In addition, the system forwards information about the accident to other vehicle systems – for example eCall, which automatically calls emergency services after an airbag has been deployed.

Since 1977, Bosch engineers have worked with automakers on the first electronic airbag control unit, putting it through more than 6,000 crash tests in 60 vehicle models. Today, more than 1.8 million crash simulations are necessary to prepare an airbag control unit for large-scale production in a vehicle model. The first airbag system, which went into production in December 1980 and then had its market launch in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, consisted of three components – a voltage converter, an energy reserve, and a control unit – with a total of 170 parts. These controlled only an airbag and belt tensioner for the driver and optionally for the front passenger. Today’s twelfth-generation airbag control units have just half as many parts and can manage up to 48 restraint devices, including various front and side airbags, knee airbags, and belt tensioners.

Airbag control units and automated driving

In the future, as the number of sensors in vehicles rises, applying the information they gather could ensure that airbags, belt tensioners, and other vehicle functions interact even better. Such an interaction might look something like this: the system swiftly recognizes an impending accident and, for example, automatically puts the occupants into a sitting position that reduces their risk of injury before the actual collision. It can deploy airbags and belt tensioners to provide the best possible crash protection for every person in the vehicle.

Increasingly automated driving is one area where these possibilities are relevant, since at higher levels it opens up entirely new interior concepts and more room to move about, even for drivers: they may swivel their seat, turn to face the passengers, or get cozy in their seat. As seating arrangements in the vehicle become more flexible, it is ever more crucial to have very specific control of airbags and belt tensioners. In turn, this increases the complexity of the demands on the airbag control units that Bosch is already working on today. Even after 40 years, this particular bag of tricks is still far from empty.

Mobility Solutions is the largest Bosch Group business sector. It generated sales of 46.8 billion euros in 2019, and thus contributed 60 percent of total sales from operations. This makes the Bosch Group one of the leading automotive suppliers. The Mobility Solutions business sector pursues a vision of mobility that is safe, sustainable, and exciting, and combines the group’s expertise in the domains of personalization, automation, electrification, and connectivity. For its customers, the outcome is integrated mobility solutions. The business sector’s main areas of activity are injection technology and powertrain peripherals for internal-combustion engines, diverse solutions for powertrain electrification, vehicle safety systems, driver-assistance and automated functions, technology for user-friendly infotainment as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, repair-shop concepts, and technology and services for the automotive aftermarket. Bosch is synonymous with important automotive innovations, such as electronic engine management, the ESP anti-skid system, and common-rail diesel technology.

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 400,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2019). The company generated sales of 77.7 billion euros in 2019. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. As a leading IoT provider, Bosch offers innovative solutions for smart homes, Industry 4.0, and connected mobility. Bosch is pursuing a vision of mobility that is sustainable, safe, and exciting. It uses its expertise in sensor technology, software, and services, as well as its own IoT cloud, to offer its customers connected, cross-domain solutions from a single source. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to facilitate connected living with products and solutions that either contain artificial intelligence (AI) or have been developed or manufactured with its help. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.” The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiary and regional companies in 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing, engineering, and sales network covers nearly every country in the world. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. Bosch employs some 72,600 associates in research and development at 126 locations across the globe, as well as roughly 30,000 software engineers.

Additional information is available online at www.bosch.com, www.iot.bosch.com, www.bosch-press.com, www.twitter.com/BoschPresse.

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