Nowadays, the airbag seems self-explanatory and is an integral part of any car kit. This year, Mercedes-Benz is celebrating two anniversaries - the 50th anniversary of the patenting of its airbag and the 40th anniversary of the entire automotive industry by integrating airbags into its passenger cars.
The idea of an airbag was patented in October 1951. Its author was the German Walter Linderer. However, the idea is only the first step, followed by many others, for the invention to be implemented in industrial series production.
Mercedes-Benz resorted to it in 1966 after making a number of improvements to the bodywork in response to the rapid increase in road accidents. The first tests of the airbag in practice were carried out by the company a year after starting work.
In a letter to Mercedes Automotive Magazine in 1970, Mercedes-Benz commented: "The effectiveness of the airbag system in combination with the belt and head restraints in the event of a frontal or rear-end collision can be described as good."
The patent application, with the main conclusions of the early tests set out therein, by Daimler-Benz AG was filed on 23 October 1971. This application was a key document for the further development of airbags. It already included the principle of operation of the new technology: the sensors detect a particularly strong deceleration, which is typical of collisions, and activate the cushion mechanism. Namely, a charge of propellant gas is ignited, which, when exploded, forms mainly gaseous nitrogen, a little water and oxygen, and thus inflates the cushion, preventing the passengers in front of the car from hitting the steering wheel and / or the panel.
It took another 10 years of hard work for Mercedes-Benz to become the world's first carmaker to offer a world-class series of airbags in 1981. It took place at the Geneva Motor Show with the presentation of the W 126 Series S-Class sedan. A year later, the driver's airbag became standard equipment and the passenger airbag became optional in all Mercedes-Benz models. Finally, in 1994, the front passenger airbag was included as standard.
In the following years, thanks to the work of engineers, the airbag modules became smaller and smaller. Therefore, they could be integrated into other areas of the vehicle, providing comprehensive protection in the event of a side impact. The latest milestone in the history of airbags is the first frontal airbag for rear seat occupants, which was introduced to the world by Mercedes-Benz at the end of last year in the latest S-Class. The model is also fitted with conceptually new inflatable seat belts and also a new airbag between the front seats, which reduces the risk of frontal occupant head contact in the event of a side impact.
During its existence, the airbag has helped save countless lives. For example, between 1987 and 2017, front airbags in America alone saved 50,457 lives.