Today’s cars come equipped with sensors that can detect danger and automatically deploy air bags. Now laptops, too, are getting a similar defense mechanism.

Two new models of ThinkPad notebook computers, unveiled earlier this month by IBM Corp., come with a chip that can detect when the laptop is accelerating–such as when it has been accidentally nudged off a table and is plunging to the floor.

If the hard drive happens to be reading or writing data at the time, the chip tells the drive to temporarily stop. Hard drives are at their most vulnerable when reading and writing data, so IBM believes the crash-protection chip will help guard against such losses of important information.

IBM says the technology is particularly apt for use in schools, where laptop computers often are subjected to abuse by students.

At least one school technology leader who spoke with eSchool News described IBM’s new crash-protection system as promising.

“I find the concept to be interesting,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for the Governor Mifflin School District in Pennsylvania. “We’ve had a few users drop their laptops. They were not reading or writing data, … [but] I had one hard drive fail to boot afterward.”

The crash chips are found in IBM’s new ThinkPad R50 and T41 models, which start at $1,529 and $1,649, respectively.


IBM’s ThinkPad site