Eric Heitkamp, a safety engineer working at Honda, has earned the U.S. Government Award for Safety Engineering Excellence, the highest honor bestowed upon engineers in the field of safety innovations.
Heitkamp received the award at the 2023 Enhanced Safety of Vehicles conference in Japan for his role in the development of a new type of passenger-side front airbag. Designed to better manage the lateral collisions, the new Honda airbag seeks to prevent the occupant’s head from rotating and sliding off the bag.
As you might expect, an occupant’s head is supposed to stay on the airbag in an accident, so when it slides off, it leads to a heightened risk of head injuries. Heitkamp looked at data gathered in a Department of Transportation study on brain injuries to develop the new part.
Unlike a traditional airbag, which is more or less designed like a circle, the new part is supposed to work more like a baseball glove. At its simplest, the new design is made up of three chambers, and the one in the middle remains uninflated, in order to catch the occupant’s head. Meanwhile, the chambers on either side cradle and protect the head.
In fact, the new airbag is a little more complicated than that. There is actually a middle chamber that does inflate to prevent a head from running into the dash, but it’s located behind a “sail panel,” whose job is to direct the head towards the middle, and to prevent it from sliding into any hard surfaces.
The technology debuted on the 2021 Acura TLX, but it is now standard equipment on the Acura MDX, the Acura TLX, and the Honda Pilot. This is the second consecutive U.S. Government Award for Safety Engineering Excellence earned by a Honda engineer. At the last awards ceremony, Sue Bai earned the accolade for Honda’s connected vehicle technology.