A new patent shows that Google is working on innovative safety features for its self-driving cars, namely human flypaper.
The company acknowledges that its self-driving cars are going to be involved in collisions, and that some of them might involve pedestrians. As a result Google has patented a new system designed to reduce injuries to pedestrians that are hit by cars, human flypaper, writes James Vincent for The Verge.
Human flypaper designed to save lives
The patent was granted earlier this week and relates to “an adhesive layer positioned on the front end of the vehicle” that pedestrians will become stuck to “in the event of a collision.”
“The adhesive bonds the pedestrian to the vehicle so that the pedestrian remains with the vehicle until it stops and is not thrown from the vehicle,” says the patent, which adds that this will stop the pedestrian suffering a secondary impact on the road surface. It may sound strange, but it’s certainly a good idea.
As the patent points out, many injuries suffered in road collisions are not due to the initial impact, but the secondary impact with the ground or another object.
One potential drawback to the system is that it is “similar to flypaper or double-sided duct tape,” meaning you will pick up dirt and bugs along the way. However Google has thought of that, and proposes an exterior “eggshell” layer that covers the adhesive on the self-driving car until an impact is suffered, “revealing the adhesive layer below, and bonding to the pedestrian.”
Google system first to prevent secondary impact
Other manufacturers have developed different mechanisms to reduce injuries to pedestrians during a collision, as the patent points out. Jaguar built a system that lifts the bonnet of the car before impact in order to give a softer crumple zone for the pedestrian.
Volvo made a system that deploys airbags from the front of the car. However neither system is able to deal with potential injuries suffered after the pedestrian is thrown away from the vehicle.
However the system could create problems in its own right. According to Stanford School of Law professor and self-driving car expert Bryant Walker Smith, how useful the patent is will really depend on “the chaos of the situation.”
More pedestrian safety technology needed
He points out that although the pedestrian may be safely stuck to the car, they could now obscure the view of the driver and lead to another crash. Walker Smith believes that solutions often create their own problems, which can certainly be true. However in this case it is logical to predict that a driver would attempt to brake and bring the car to a halt rather than driving on with their vision obscured.
However Walker Smith acknowledges that despite his concerns it is laudable that Google is developing systems focused on the safety of pedestrians, rather than simply drivers and passengers. “The idea that cars should be safe for people other than the ones in them is the next generation of automotive safety,” he said. “I applaud anybody for thinking, as they should, about people outside of the vehicle.”
No one wants to get hit by a car, but if it’s going to happen you may as well not be thrown up into the air before crashing down into the road. It sounds like a bizarre idea at first, but the more you think about it the better it seems.