NASA has came up with a rather simple and clever idea that may save a lot of lives: An expandable Kevlar honeycomb cushion that would absorb the impact force in an aircraft crash. NASA's Karen Jackson is hopeful about it:
I'd like to think the research we're doing is going to end up in airframes and will potentially save lives. We crash-tested the helicopter by suspending it about 35 feet (10.7 m) into the air using cables. Then, as it swung to the ground, we used pyrotechnics to remove the cables just before the helicopter hit so that it reacted like it would in a real accident.
The test—which imitated the conditions of a "relatively severe helicopter crash"—appeared to be a success, although NASA is still going through the data collected by the 160 sensors on board, and the four crash test dummies with torsos specially designed to simulate the behavior of internal organs.
Created by engineer Sotiris Kellas at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Viginia, the kevlar honeycomb is not permanently deployed: It's always flat until it expands in the case of emergency, much like an airbag but using a flexible hinge instead of inflating. [NASA via PopSci]