Success Story

Parachute Technology Airbag

Parachute Technology Airbag

In 1992, Sandia’s parachute development engineers partnered with Precision Fabrics Group, a leading manufacturer of military parachute material, to develop a new airbag with more than 60% reduced weight and volume compared to those used in passenger vehicles at the time. This technology entered the market just ahead of new regulations requiring all automobiles sold in the U.S. to have both driver and front-seat passenger airbags beginning in 1997.

Sandia and Precision Fabrics Group partnered via Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to rethink basic airbag design and create a more efficient and cost-effective product to meet the automotive industry’s needs. Key to this development was the use of a high-performance material, originally for military use, that surpassed the material used in airbags at the time. The Precision Technology Airbag was developed using lightweight, woven nylon material that was formerly used in military parachutes to ensure accurate delivery of nuclear weapons when dropped from supersonic aircraft. It was small enough to fit into a man’s shirt pocket when folded, but offered the same level of protection as conventional designs. Because less energy is required to inflate the lighter weight material, the airbag inflated faster than others on the market, deploying in approximately 19 to 24 milliseconds on the driver’s side compared to 25 to 30 milliseconds for a conventional airbag. Additionally, the smooth material reduced abrasions and burns that can occur in an accident when an inflating airbag encounters skin.

In addition to the airbag being easier to manufacture, its reduced size and weight were instrumental in enabling the installation of more airbags in vehicles. The technology gave automobile manufacturers the ability to include airbags in door panels to protect against side impacts, and, for the first time, to offer protection to rear passengers. Further, Sandia applied the expertise in fabric structures analysis used in the development of this airbag to later projects, including the construction, testing, and analysis of an airbag for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars Environmental Survey Lander

CaptSandia researcher Kenneth Gwinn displays a prototype of the compact, lighter
airbag developed by Sandia and Precision Fabrics Group.ion