It may sound easy enough, but don't try this at home. To test the performance of new pressure-based air bag sensors equipped on the 2010 Taurus and 2009 Ford F150, Ford engineers have employed equipment more commonly found in shopping malls than in laboratories, such such as water cannons, basket balls, shopping carts.
Unconventional as these tests may seem in a state-of-the-art testing facility, it's exactly what these vehicles might encounter in the real world and what engineers need to test against.
As part an effort to achieve the highest safety ratings, Ford has replaced acceleration-based sensors with pressure-based sensors that more accurately measure the severity of a crash.
These new air bag pressure sensors, according to Ford, have several advantages over air bags equipped with acceleration-based sensors: they deploy 30 percent faster, perform better in new federal side-impact and oblique-impact tests, are less likely to be affected by vehicle design differences, and give designers more flexibility because they take up less space.
They also can better differentiate between a "life-threatening, air bag-deployable crash and relatively harmless daily abuse that should not require air bag protection," according to a Ford press release.
But are they more susceptible to accidental deployment?
To make sure they're not, Ford orchestrated a series of tests to ensure that air bag won't deploy when these vehicles are driven aggressively or hit with non-threatening force, such as a weighted shopping cart or a basketball in the street.
The water cannon test --in which a water cannon is mounted to the rear of a vehicle and its water blasts creates enough outward force to cause the car to skid-- isn't used to test air bags. Rather, it generates data in computer simulations to help study how to enhance stability control technology.
These tests sound like fun and games, and they're designed to ensure that no one gets hurt. However, there's no word on what happens to the vehicle's paint job.