By on December 12, 2017

Front Pedestrian Braking, a new active safety technology available on the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and 2016 Cadillac CT6, is one of many safety features tested at General Motors' new Active Safety Test Area at the Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. Image: Jeffrey Sauger/General Motors

Resident internet sleuth Bozi Tatarevic has unearthed an interesting patent granted to General Motors last week. Described as a “Fender Located Pedestrian Airbag,” it is intended to provide protection to a pedestrian hit by the front area of a vehicle.

Given that pedestrian safety standards are often cited as the reason for the pop-up headlamp’s demise, one can only assume that the units are poised for a glorious comeback on the next Corvette. No? Damn.

The 28-page filing shows a myriad of ways the exterior airbag could help protect a pedestrian in a collision, from popping out of the a-pillar and covering the windshield to being released from a fender flap in order to inflate and cover the wiper arms and other poky bits.

Referring to a number of the patent illustrations, a number of variations on this theme would see a pedestrian protection airbag module located in the fender region, laterally adjacent and below a vehicle’s hood but ahead of the driver’s door. Other examples describe an airbag deploying above the grille without lifting up the hood.

One would think there’s a myriad of engineering issues to overcome with this concept, not the least of which are the extreme conditions these units will face being housed outside the passenger cabin. Sure, the airbags inside a car are often subjected to extreme heat and cold, but units outside the car will also have to contend with road hazards and rigors of a daily commute.

The patent does address the issue of the deployment door sticking after being exposed to foul weather conditions. It goes on to talk about water diversion systems to keep the expensive electronics dry and in good working order. Sounds potentially like an awful lot of Rube Goldberg parts, then.

GM Exterior Airbag

Still, it is an interesting concept. A line in the patent document goes on to say that a “discrete deployment door” could be integrated into a window trim ring or – HERE IT IS – integrated into the headlamp area as part of the lamp or surrounding trim.

I know pop-ups aren’t making a return, even if some of the designs shown in this patent do make it into production vehicles.

[Images: General Motors, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office]

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16 Comments on “GM Patents Exterior Airbag; Pop-Up Headlights Set for Triumphant Return?...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    One more expensive part to replace after an accident, leading to more cars being totaled because they’re too expensive to repair.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      Imagine if they went off every time some stupid pedestrian walked out in front of your car (like a car alarm), it could get expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @did: Yup. Meanwhile pricing the car right out of the reach of its intended customers, just like so many other GM cars over the years. People are going to end up buying Fiat 500s, Toyota Yaris’ and other mini-compacts simply because they can’t afford anything bigger.

  • avatar
    turf3

    I always said that if we were serious about improving the gene pool we would put airbags on the outside, and lots of spiky features on the inside.

  • avatar
    turf3

    And of course there is the one-side-only failed headlight motor so you go down the road with one up and one down. If they ever come back, they’ll be computerized so you’ll have to stop every so often and turn the car off and back on again to stop the slow flapping up and down.

  • avatar
    kefkafloyd

    I remember when Volvo tried an exterior aribag with the V40 and quickly abandoned it because they were able to do something else in the refresh design to avoid the need of the airbag for pedestrian safety. When it fired, it would change the deflection angle of the hood to ease the impact on the passenger in some way.

    Popup headlights were a workaround for exterior designs that couldn’t easily integrate headlamps into the design. With modern headlamp and lens design, popups aren’t really needed for extreme styling anymore. I certainly don’t miss the crappy motors GM put into my Trans Am.

    I do miss “headlights go up, headlights go down,” though…

  • avatar
    Ratsnake

    I see it’s already been said: the Volvo V40 had a pedestrian airbag, though no dedicated door to cover it. And, soon, had it no longer. For the most part, it doesn’t look like an airbag would solve the pop-up headlights part of the pedestrian on car crash. The airbags look to be about what happens if the pedestrian goes airborne; they don’t seem to solve for the initial hit, which is where pop-up lights would be along with a bumper and possibly a grille.

    The timing is a bear, when would a bumper airbag (or similar) deploy? Neither before nor after the pedestrian is hit is a good answer.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Anyone seriously wishing for the return of pop up headlights has never owned a car with them in icy/snowy weather. Or for that matter a Saturn with them in any season….

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      Hint: if your pop up headlights are making noise. That means the motors are working and just need to be reset. Simple fix can be done in about 30 seconds without the use of any tools.

      Also my ’93 Saturn SC2 and the ’87 Pontiac Sunbird had before that both had pop up headlights. And yes I would like to see them return.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I could see pop up headlights now the LED’s are used for DRL.
    Better than pop up headlights would be lower hood lines and thus lower belt lines with bigger greenhouse for better outward vision.
    Years ago I read that some European brand was considering a front hinged hood that would pop up at the windshield end upon a pedestrian collision and cushion the impact the same way a tall hood line does.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Of course, with modern, lower hoodlines, why do we even need such obvious headlamps any more. An LED arrangement could line the grill or just above the bumper and offer much better lighting and actually improve aerodynamics.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Darwin weeps.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      I’ve often felt any rational concern for pedestrian safety should pretty much begin and end with, ‘teach your children not to play in the street.’

  • avatar
    AJ

    Wouldn’t that, at least slightly, encourage some people to drive faster around pedestrians? (lol)

  • avatar
    Prado

    Pedestrian safety standards ….. do they exist in North America? I was under the impression that they did not, but with so many cars being ‘international’ cars, we end up getting stuck with the ugly design ramifications regardless.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I’m here to go on record as saying I hate pop-up headlights.

    The 3rd gen Accord, for example, looks so much better in the fixed-headlight European spec. (For those that haven’t seen it, its very similar to the 88-91 Civic.)

    The only car I thought looked good with hidden headlights was the first gen Mercury Cougar. The rest, be they pop-up variety or otherwise, no thanks. The car looks blank with them hidden (like a person walking around with their eyes closed), and odd/awkward with them exposed. The car just never looks “right” to me.

    To each, their own.


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