Sustainability 2011/12

Vehicle Safety

Dr. Saeed Barbat

Executive Technical Leader for Safety
Ford Research and Advanced Engineering

Dr. Saeed Barbat

I have been at Ford for 20 years, and over that time I’ve been involved in developing a host of technologies, tools and safety test methods that have made significant contributions to automotive safety. I concentrate on enhancing “passive-safety” technologies – such as vehicle safety structures, vehicle interiors and trim, airbags and safety belts – which are aimed at helping to protect occupants in the event of a crash. (“Active-safety” technologies, by contrast, are those that seek to prevent crashes.)

A decade or so ago, for example, we began to think more about how to mitigate the problems that occur when light-duty trucks and SUVs collide with small passenger cars. As one response, we developed the BlockerBeam™ in 1999, an industry-first technology for SUVs and light trucks that helps absorb crash energy in collisions and reduce or inhibit potential “over-ride” by lowering the point of impact, thereby providing better compatibility with smaller vehicles. We’ve also focused on the safety of our own small vehicles. The newly redesigned Ford Fiesta, for example, is made with high-strength steels and includes advanced airbag technologies. It has performed exceptionally well in third-party crash tests. We continue to focus on the safety of smaller cars as we respond to increasing consumer demand for lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

One of our more recent passive-safety advancements was the world’s first rear-seat inflatable safety belt, which debuted on the 2011 Ford Explorer and has won numerous awards.

We have a comprehensive, science-based system at Ford for developing and executing new safety-related technologies. This system takes into account real-world accident data and societal trends, so we can focus on the kinds of enhancements that will make a difference in real-world safety.

And, real-world safety needs and safety regulations differ by global region. As a global company, we have to take these differences into account and respond to them appropriately. In India and China, for example, many vehicle-related fatalities involve pedestrians and cyclists. So regulations and countermeasures in those regions take into account those modes of transport. In China, we offer the Ford Mondeo and Edge equipped with safety technologies to help achieve the five-star requirements of the China New Car Assessment Program. Also, the Ford Fiesta earns top crash-test ratings in multiple global regions, including China, Europe and the U.S.

We’re using industry-leading tools to help develop our safety features. For example, we employ an adult digital human body model (developed by Ford) as a research tool to help us better understand the extent of tissue injuries that can occur during a crash. (By contrast, crash-test dummies measure the force of impact, but not potential injuries to internal organs.) We are also developing a child-size human body model to better understand the impacts of crashes on young passengers. These tools will also help in the development of more human-like crash dummies, with more sophisticated instrumentation.

Looking ahead, we’ll continue research on rear-seat restraint systems for children and adults. Forthcoming research will also look at elderly protection, driver wellness, lithium-ion batteries, and even better lightweight technologies, such as parts made from carbon fiber.

When I think about the roadways of the future, I imagine a world of autonomous vehicles in which some accidents can be avoided altogether. Already, we’re seeing the regular introduction of new accident avoidance and driver assist technologies – such as Ford’s own Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Information System and Active Park Assist – which are moving us in that direction. These types of technologies will only increase in the years to come, and then autonomous driving may become reality.

Our vision is continuous safety improvement in our products worldwide. To further enhance real-world safety and to reduce fatalities, we also focus on integrated safety – in other words, find more ways to integrate passive and active safety technologies to allow greater flexibility in occupant crash protection under a variety of crash conditions, through restraint and structure “adaptivity.” We’re already doing this in some cases; for example, Ford’s Collision Warning with Brake Support technology uses sensors to determine if a crash is imminent, and then “pretensions” the brakes so they can be deployed more quickly. So, an area for future work is to determine how we can increasingly put active sensors to work in combination with passive-safety systems.