Falls account for 70 percent of accidental deaths among people 75 years or older, according to the White House Medical Clinic in Washington, D.C. With this and other elder injury statistics in mind, Prop Corp., Tokyo, Japan, developed a wearable airbag, first unveiled at the International Home Care and Rehabilitation Exhibition in Tokyo in September. Mitsuya Uchida, president of Prop, demonstrated the airbag, which captured the attention of reporters, many of whom found the concept more amusing than practical.
An article in Industrial Health, a scholarly journal, co-authored by Uchida and Kiyoshi Fukaya of Japan’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, provides a more serious evaluation of the concept. The wearable systems, consisting of airbag, sensor system, inflator and jacket, are targeted at very specific types of falls. These include protecting workers who fall from heights, people in wheelchairs that overturn, and elderly people with epilepsy or health conditions that predispose them to fall. Two airbags, one behind the head and another around the hips, deploy in 0.1 seconds if detectors show acceleration to the ground.
The limits are obvious: airbags protect only the back of the head in worker falls and afford little protection to seniors who fall forward. The technology did offer some protection for wheelchair overturns and frequent fallers, so it may have more traction in future designs. Read more at the Web site for Industrial Health, www.jniosh.go.jp/en/indu_hel/pdf/IH_46_1_59.pdf.