Rethinking the Seat Belt
(Previous Engineering Work as a Member of Tool., Inc.)
Have you ever leaned forward to pick something up off the floor of a car, only to find that as you lean back, your seat belt no longer allows you to pull out any more slack? Then, when it finally has you pinned to your seat, your only option is to unbuckle it and retract all of the webbing before re-buckling.
It may seem like this feature primarily serves as a nuisance to passengers, but the Automatic Locking Retractor (ALR) is actually intended for securely installing car seats. And as many parents can attest, this process is not without its headaches either. To alleviate ‘nuisance locking’ issues and improve the car seat installation process, TOOL partnered with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and developed three seat belt solutions. I acted as the lead engineer on the development of these concepts.
The first concept is the simplest and only affects the seat belt retractor, which is concealed within the paneling of modern vehicles. An electromechanical system integrated into the retractor allows the ALR to be disengaged simply by unbuckling the seat belt. The user can then re-buckle the seat belt without having to fully retract the webbing.
The second concept (first section below) requires direct user interaction. When the webbing is fully payed out, a knob will protrude from the side panel of the vehicle. If the user wishes to activate the ALR, she rotates the knob to the ‘locked’ position. As the retractor begins to gather up slack, the knob automatically retracts.
In the third concept (final section below), the user presses a button to engage the ALR. The user can choose to engage the ALR at any point while paying out the webbing and can disengage the ALR simply by pressing the button again.
In all three cases, unbuckling the seatbelt disengages the ALR and brings the entire system back to rest.
The final prototypes were tested at the University of Michigan (UMTRI) by a panel of 16 test subjects. The concepts consistently outperformed the control group, allowing TOOL to further refine the models. We are now in the process of working with automotive manufacturers to integrate the most recent iteration of this device into their vehicles.