Next Big Thing? Side Bumpers on Cars

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Starting next year, cars sold in the US will be subject to a new safety test with potentially major ramifications: In addition to the battery of NHTSA tests to which they’re currently subjected, cars will have to start passing a new side-impact test with a pole:

According to The New York Times, the new test will use a 10-inch round pole that will collide with the car at speeds of up to 20 mph. A 75-degree angle will be used, and the point of impact will be just aft of the A-pillar. Naturally, automakers won’t have to pass the test all at once, the standard will be phased in. For 2011, 20 percent of an automaker’s fleet will have to meet the standard and by 2014, the pole crash standard will be at 100 percent – all new cars will have to comply. [Autoblog]

Now, most extant cars — particularly smaller ones — are not especially good at this sort of test. Into the fray steps inventor and MIT alum Steve Shoap, who has patented and prototyped a system that combines side bumpers and crumple boxes to build safer cars. While it’s probably not going to win any beauty contests (or at least the prototype isn’t), his bumper has the dual advantage of scoring well on safety tests and of being fairly lightweight — a big plus on car tests.

Autopia reports:

The Safer Small Cars system uses collapsible side bumpers that absorb the force of an impact.

They work a lot like the bumpers on the front and back of the car in your driveway, but they can take the brunt of a side impact. They’re connected to a compartment of energy absorbing material that Shoap calls a crumple box. In the event of an impact, the bumpers collapse into the crumple box, absorbing the impact force. Rather than reinforcing the doors and B-pillars — the vertical supports often found between the front and rear doors of a sedan — Shoap says a small car car built using his safety system could be lighter, and therefore more fuel-efficient.

(Wired Autopia via @raywert)

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