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Smart seat belts for smart cars

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Tags: Safety
Seat belts are just straps that hold you back in case of an accident? Think again. Our passenger safety colleagues work on belt technologies that actively contribute to more safety in your car.
Ed Schlaps, November 30, 2018
Ed Schlaps is Senior Technical Specialist for Seat Belt Systems.
Most of us don’t think that much about our seat belts. Sure, they protect us while driving. But when we do notice them, it is mostly as a nuisance. Car makers have already made some trade-offs to mitigate that annoyance. One example is that our seat belts are not in the ideal position for protecting occupants in a potential crash. The industry has settled on a compromise between convenience and safety, locating the buckle in a higher position than optimal to make it easier for passengers to reach and engage it.

At ZF, we were wondering about a way to get rid of this compromise. What if your seat belt decided to make life easier for you and your passengers while still offering the best safety? If you opened the car door and your buckle rose to greet you? That’s how we came up with our Active Buckle Lifter (ABL) system: the buckle extends upward making it easier to locate and to buckle. Once buckled, it recedes downward into the ideal position to provide safety benefits.

This seemingly simple solution can help in various ways. Whether it is buckling up in the winter when you are wearing two undershirts, a sweatshirt, a parka and a bulky overcoat; or you need to help your 80 year old grandparents who are not quite as spry as they used to be; or finding that buckle as you are sprawled across the back seat trying to click in that infant car seat – the ABL is literally there for you. Equipped with illumination, the seat belt can even be helpful to you at night time.

And this is just one example of smart seat belts from ZF. We also developed an Active Control Retractor (ACR) technology that demonstrates just how advanced seat belts have become and how they will play an important role in the future not only protecting passengers in case of accidents, but also helping to prevent them altogether: The ACR can provide driver alerts through a vibration of the belt if the car wanders out of its lane or gets too close to another vehicle. This will be key as automated driving functions become more prevalent and drivers no longer have their hands on the steering wheel or feet on the pedals – the seat belts will now be one of the only contact points with vehicle occupants. And they are a very effective way of getting people’s attention, as studies have shown.

Of course, these belts also offer significant safety benefits. Seat belt slack can be removed by tightening the belt in response to autonomous emergency braking, before the brakes are even applied. This helps to keep the occupant in a better position before a potential crash occurs. If the crash is avoided, the technology is reversible and returns to normal belt slack.
So whether it is an active buckle lifter or an active control retractor, seat belts are becoming more interactive and providing greater benefits for the cars of today and tomorrow. And that’s what we do at ZF: thinking of smarter solutions that make life easier – and most importantly safer – for you.