The airbag – a crucial safety device required by law on all new cars – is soon to get its first major development in years, with the unveiling of a new external side airbag.

Designers at US safety engineering firm TRW Automotive are working on an inflatable cushion, which deploys from the door to protect occupants from a sideways impact.

Internal side airbags are already commonplace in many cars but TRW hopes to increase occupant safety further with its new creation, with side impact crashes accounting for around 38 per cent of accidents.

Having developed a system that can deploy an airbag in between 20-30 milliseconds, TRW is now working on a radar and camera based detection system, which will work out the precise moment the airbag is to be deployed.

The project has been in the works for three years and is being funded by the EU. TRW hope to have a production version of the external airbag system fitted to premium saloons before the end of the decade.

This is not the first time externally deploying airbags have been seen. The Volvo V40 was recently named the safest car ever for pedestrian protection, largely due to its pioneering pedestrian airbag, which wraps the front of the car in a protective cushion in the event of a collision with a walker or cyclist.

Picture: TRW