German researchers are developing a car that can anticipate a side-on impact and subtly alter its body shape to better absorb the force of the crash:
The car will use hood-mounted cameras and radar to spot a vehicle on course for a side-on collision. Once it realises an impact is imminent it will activate a shape-shifting metal in the door. This reinforces the bond between door and frame, which is normally a weak spot, and distributes the force of the blow more safely.
Side impacts are as common as front or rear ones but cause many more injuries, says Joachim Tandler, a car safety researcher at engineering firm Siemens who is working on the EU-funded project.
"It's because there is so little crush zone, and less energy is absorbed before the passenger compartment is crushed," he told New Scientist. There is also insufficient time for a conventional safety system – such as a built-in airbag – to react and protect a passenger, he says.