Groundbreaking Airbag Technology Earns Honda Safety Engineer US Government Award

Honda safety engineer Eric Heitkamp has received the highest honour bestowed by the US Department of Transportation for his work in leading the creation of a groundbreaking front passenger airbag design.

Heitkamp accepted the US Government Award for Safety Engineering Excellence at the 2023 Enhanced Safety of Vehicles (ESV) conference in Yokohama, Japan. The award recognises people who have made exceptional scientific contributions in the field of motor vehicle safety engineering and for distinguished service to the motoring public.

His win marks the second consecutive excellence award won by a US-based Honda engineer, with Sue Bai recognised at the 2019 ESV conference for industry-leading efforts in connected vehicle technology.

Honda said the unique three-chamber front passenger airbag technology is designed to better manage lateral collision forces that can cause an occupant’s head to rotate severely at high velocity and slide off a conventional airbag, increasing the chance of serious injury. Heitkamp led development of the new airbag using new research measuring brain injuries in vehicle collisions, including a landmark study of brain injuries led by scientists at the US Department of Transportation.

Rather than the single inflatable chamber of conventional front passenger airbag systems, the new airbag operates something like a baseball catcher’s mitt, with an uninflated panel first catching and decelerating the occupant’s head with less force, while directing it inward between two inflated chambers to cradle and protect the head.

The airbag uses four major components: three inflated compartments consisting of a centre chamber and two outward-projecting side chambers that create a wide base across the dash, and an uninflated ‘sail panel’ that stretches between the two side chambers.

The technology debuted in the 2021 Acura TLX and is now also standard equipment in the Acura MDX, and Honda Pilot.