Exterior Auto Airbags Could Make Car Crashes More Comfy

In the future, if Japanese researchers have their way, being hit by a car could feel like being hit in a pillow fight. Since equipping pedestrians with auto-inflating airbags is impractical, a research team drawn from Hiroshima University, Hiroshima Municipal Technical High School and around 20 local companies is doing the next best thing: mounting airbags on the exterior body panels of automobiles.

The panels, called "iSAVE" (hear that, Steve Jobs?) are to be installed on 50 to 100 cars and tested in real-world driving situations later this year. Pending positive results, the researchers expect to market the panels in 2011.

The iSAVE panels are integrated with interior airbags so that once an exterior bag registers an impact, the air inside it is transferred to a corresponding interior airbag to protect drivers and passengers inside the vehicle.

A prototype electric vehicle featuring the new iSAVE body panels was shown to the press and public on August 28th at Hiroshima Municipal Technical High School. The car is a small three-wheeler with what appear to be movie theater style velvet ropes for doors - check the weather forecast before driving.

A turnpike cruiser it ain't, but it might be a good choice for urban commuters who would be the most likely to encounter pedestrians during their daily drives to and from their workplaces. (via Asahi.com and Mainichi Daily News)