Ed Schlaps is Senior Technical Specialist for Seat Belt Systems.
Most of us don’t think that much about our seat belts. Sure - they can help to protect us and our families while driving - but they can also seem to be a nuisance at times.
A little-known fact is that there may be opportunities for new technology to improve the position of seat belts to help improve occupant protection in a potential crash. Currently much of the industry has accepted that the buckle needs to be a higher position than might be optimal to make it easier for passengers to locate the buckle and engage it.
But what if your seat belt could make life easier for you and your passengers? When you opened the car door your buckle rose to greet you – beckoning you to “buckle me up”?
May sound like a fantasy but ZF’s Active Buckle Lifter (ABL) system does just that – the buckle extends upward making it easier to locate and to buckle – and, once buckled, then recedes downward to improve overall belt position to potentially increase the safety benefits.
Sounds simple but think of all the ways this can help – whether it’s buckling up in the winter when you have on 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 trying to find that buckle as you’re sprawled across the back seat trying to click in that infant car seat – this seat belt comes with friendly benefits.
The seat belt can even be helpful to you at night time - your ABL can come equipped with an illumination feature, raising its lighted buckle and making it easier to find in the dark.
This is just one example of smart seat belts from ZF. Our Active Control Retractor (ACR) seat belt technology demonstrates just how advanced seat belts have become and how they will play a key role in the future. The ACR can help provide driver alerts using 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 need to have their hands on the steering wheel or feet on the pedals – the seat belt will now be one of the only contact points with vehicle occupants - and studies show they are a very effective way of getting peoples’ attention.
Of course, these belts also offer significant safety benefits. Seat belt slack can be removed to tighten the belt in response to autonomous emergency braking, before the brakes are applied - to help keep the occupant in a better position before a potential crash occurs – and if the crash is avoided, the technology is reversible and returns to normal belt function.
So, whether it’s 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.