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Bosch Hopes Triggering Explosions Will Actually Make Electric Cars Safer When They Crash

A Tesla Model S that crashed in South Jordan, Utah, while in Autopilot mode accelerated in the seconds before it smashed into the stopped firetruck, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press. Two people were injured.
A Tesla Model S that crashed in South Jordan, Utah, while in Autopilot mode accelerated in the seconds before it smashed into the stopped firetruck, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press. Two people were injured.
Photo: South Jordan Police Department (AP

Building an electric vehicle isn’t as easy as swapping a fuel tank for a battery and a gas-guzzling engine for an electric motor, it requires an extensive redesign of the car as we know it, including planning for new risks when an accident occurs. That’s where Bosch thinks intentional explosions could actually make electric vehicles much safer.

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When a gas-powered vehicle is involved in an accident, there’s the risk of its fuel tank leaking and causing a volatile fire. There’s still the risk of fire when an electric vehicle crashes, but more concerning is its electric battery, which is capable of delivering a powerful shock should wiring be damaged during the incident. Electric vehicles have mechanisms that turn off their electrical systems in a fraction of a second when an accident is detected, but depending on how a crash plays out, damaged wiring could cause a current to leak into a car’s metal frame and bodywork, making it difficult to escape, and unsafe for rescue workers and first responders to attempt to access people trapped inside.

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As an added safety measure Bosch has created small devices that trigger pyrofuses, which set off tiny controlled explosions to drive a physical wedge into the cables that connect an electric car’s battery to all of its electronics and power train. It ensures that no matter what happens to the electronics and wiring inside an electric vehicle during a crash, there is no physical connection to the battery any longer, ostensibly removing the risk of electric shock. Like the explosions that trigger airbags, they’re highly controlled so as not to pose any risk to the occupants of a car. And given how instantly they’re triggered, they’re probably the last thing one would actually hear if they were involved in a serious accident.

There’s always the risk of a crash being so severe that something physically damages the vehicle’s battery, which could lead to a far more catastrophic kind of explosion, so Bosch’s solution doesn’t entirely eliminate the potential for a giant battery to make a car crash worse. But it does manage to reduce a very unique risk and will certainly help ease some concerns as electric vehicles slowly take over our roads.

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DISCUSSION

Rampage_Rick
Rampage_Rick

Big whoop. My 7 year old Chevy Volt has a disconnect built into the battery that de-energizes the output when the airbags fire. It also has a safety plug in the center console that effectively splits the pack in two, so instead of a big 360V battery you get two 180V batteries.

For the really paranoid, they have loops of harness marked for first responders to cut that will permanently kill all onboard electrical systems.