Make: Inventions “The Airbag”

Science Workshop
Make: Inventions “The Airbag”

By Steve Hoefer

Safety isn’t always the first thing on the mind of makers but the faster you go, the faster your safety devices need to be. A modern airbag can deploy 10 times faster than your reflexes can react, but it’s a lot more than an on-demand balloon. It’s a collection of inventions, made over decades, integrated to do a lot of complicated work in a blink of an eye.

Make: Inventions - Airbag

In this episode of Make: Inventions I do my best to make an airbag system that can detect a crash and deploy safely in 1/20th of a second. It takes sewing, metalworking, woodworking, programing, electronics, and pyrotechnics, some of which I had to learn along the way. And to be sure it works I break out the high-speed camera and build a crash test rig 15 feet high and 40 feet long.

The patents most referenced in this video:

  • #5,265,904 “Airbag cover with integral horn switch”
  • #5,071,161 “Air bag restraint system with venting means”
  • #3,414,292 “Inflatable Safety Device”

The code and schematic I used are also available.

See all projects in the series here


Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook