Polymers bring safety and efficiency to vehicles

Let's face it – polymers impact just about every aspect of daily life at this point, from the rubbers on the sole of your shoes to the jug holding the milk that you pour into your bowl of morning cereal. But that's a good thing. Polymers are versatile molecular chains with innumerable applications – a list that grows longer nearly every day.

"Polymers have the potential to better protect the driver and passenger from devastating impacts."

Now, engineers are developing new, tougher polymers for use as crash-absorbing bumpers on the next generation of vehicles. These materials have the potential to better protect drivers and passengers from devastating impacts, or preserve the car in minor fender-benders. But that's not all – polymers are becoming more popular for automakers looking to improve the quality of their vehicles in all aspects.

Google car protects the passenger and the pedestrian
By now, many folks have heard of Google's proposed driverless car that would provide the wheels and the chauffeur all in the same package. But this development must still have a state-of-the-art safety system – particularly as early adopters are likely to express concerns about the car's ability to avoid crashes.

The only thing keeping self-driving cars from arriving is time and research. Meanwhile, the thing that poses the biggest accident threat to these vehicles may well be the humans and human drivers around the automated cars. As a result, Google has taken precautionary measures – developing a bumper that could protect those in the car as well as those that might get in the car's way, reported Phys.org. The bumper would consist of a soft polymer with an elastic attribute.

"Because the material is highly viscous, spring back is minimal and very well damped," reads the patent, according to Phys.org. "This helps prevent the pedestrian from rebounding off the vehicle and incurring a dangerous secondary impact with the road surface or other object."

While high-speed crashes are still dangerous and potentially deadly, these bumpers could greatly reduce the damage incurred from lower-speed impacts. Of course, it will take an independent testing laboratory to determine how effective the new polymer will be on the road.

Better bumpers can prevent damage like this.Better bumpers can prevent damage like this.

First composite suspension system on display at auto show
At the JEC Europe 2015 auto show in Paris, an innovative new suspension system has garnered industry attention, according to Innovation In Textiles. The system from Owens Corning uses coil springs made of a glass fiber reinforced polymer that cuts 40 to 70 percent off the weight of traditional steel springs. In addition, the material can dampen vibration and noise, resist corrosion and last longer.

"The new springs can be mounted on cars and light commercial vehicles with no change to the suspension system, guaranteeing the vehicle a weight reduction of 4-6 kilograms … and a significantly reduced unsprung mass, thus improving driving precision," reported Sofegi, the auto component specialist that owns the patent for the new springs.

By reducing the overall weight, these springs can also improve the vehicle's performance and help automakers align with the stricter EPA fuel-efficiency regulations. Again, before any new material can be introduced into a vehicle, it should undergo analysis at a product testing lab to ensure it is safe.