Cycling or even walking in urban areas can be a little treacherous, thanks to the fact that one is sharing the road with vehicles that are increasingly getting larger and heavier. A 2009 study conducted by the World Health Organization revealed that of the 1.27 million people that perish in road traffic crashes each year, about half, are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. Now there may be a solution that could provide at least some relief to protect this vulnerable group - An airbag!

Lest you are worried that this safety measure will involve you lugging around a heavy package or worse still, wrapping yourself inside an ugly plastic bag, be assured that the bag is fitted not on the human, but on the exterior of the vehicle. And, while there are several versions of the idea in the works, the one most recently unveiled by Dutch car company TNO, seems to be the most advanced and ready to go into production.

In the works since 2011, the airbag covers only the lower portion of the windshield. This according to the company will provide the much needed buffer between the person's head and the pane of glass he/she would otherwise encounter.

The chain of events leading to an airbag trigger are quite simple - A camera fitted beneath the rear-view mirror monitors the vehicle's proximity to a pedestrian or cyclist. Any contact with either one of them sets off the sensors in the car's bumper and promptly inflates the airbag. In addition to that the sensors also trigger the car's automatic brake, mitigating the chances of an even worse injury.

In tests conducted using a dummy, the success of not getting injured after being hit by a car traveling at about 40km/h were about 50-50! While not perfect, it will still result in reducing the number of fatalities by a considerable amount.

While TNO is one of the pioneering companies to fully develop and bring to market this rather ingenious idea, they are not the first ones. That credit goes to Swedish car manufacturer, Volvo that has already introduced it in their 2012 V40 model. With TNO ready to license its technology to car manufacturers and many more companies trying to develop similar concepts, we would not be surprised if exterior airbags become a standard feature in every car pretty soon!