Not-so-sudden Impact: Waymo Patents a Softer-crashing Car to Safeguard Pedestrians

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
not so sudden impact waymo patents a softer crashing car to safeguard pedestrians

Autonomous vehicles are being billed as a safer alternative to human-controlled transportation and, assuming the hardware functions as intended, that’s likely to be the case. But eventually a self-driving car is going to smack into a pedestrian and no company wants to hold the honor of being first.

Google’s autonomous vehicle arm, Waymo, is working on a solution to mitigate the liabilities associated with such an incident by patenting a softer car.

While the application wouldn’t necessarily have to be reserved for futuristic computer-driven automobiles, some level of digital analysis would need to be used for the system to work. Essentially, the vehicle in question would use a series of “tension members” to maintain or modify its structural rigidity — primarily rods or cables. If it collides with a harder surface, the system opts to keep things more rigid upon impact. But if the on-board systems detect something fleshy, the car’s structural rigidity is softened up.

“For example, if it is determined that a bicyclist is about to strike the hood and front bumper of the vehicle, the tension may be reduced for the tension members associated with the hood and front bumper, so as to reduce the rigidity of those surfaces,” reads the patent filing.

Since even the best self-driving car has to cope with the physics of stopping distances, the technology could be useful if it actually works. Still, implementing it might be tricky, as the design would require a fairly complex network of wires and rods in order to function. The patent’s explanation is varied and rather vague as to how the computers would control the assembly, and the diagrams aren’t much better.

Taken from the patent filing, the above photo represents a bumper (with the top being the forward facing edge) with cables and tensioners outfitted within. Depending on the type of object the vehicle’s sensors indicate it’s about to impact, slack can be added or removed from the cables to achieve an optimal surface strength.

It sounds needlessly complex, but the same was likely said of anti-lock braking and windshield wipers when they were first drummed up in someone’s imagination.

This isn’t the first time Waymo has considered pedestrian safety in strange new ways. The Mercury News, which first spotted the patent, also referenced an earlier concept where an adhesive layer would be applied to a vehicle’s hood, causing a struck individual to stick to the vehicle “in a manner similar to flypaper, or double-sided duct tape.” The goal here is that a pedestrian adhered to the hood of a vehicle isn’t in danger of being knocked into traffic, only to be hit again.

Despite possessing an admirable objective, that remains, quite possibly, one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard.

[Image: Waymo]

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  • Shaker Shaker on Aug 15, 2017

    Think: 4-wheeled Baymax.

  • Chuckrs Chuckrs on Aug 15, 2017

    Google delenda est. Bring back zombie Judge Harold Greene to bust the trust like he did with Ma Bell. That sure turned out OK. Lets see what Waymo can do absent corporate constraints.

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