Google knows that its self-driving cars are going to get into accidents — maybe even accidents involving pedestrians — and so the company has patented a unique solution to minimize injuries if this happens: human flypaper. The patent, granted earlier this week, describes "an adhesive layer positioned on the front end of the vehicle" that pedestrians will simply stick to "in the event of a collision."
"The adhesive bonds the pedestrian to the vehicle"
"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, adding that this prevents secondary impact between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object." It sounds goofy, but it's addressing a serious issue. As the patent notes, many crash injuries are not cause by the initial collision, but when the pedestrian is thrown from the car onto the ground.
Of course, driving around with a coating on your car "similar to flypaper or double-sided duct tape" means you'd pick up dirt and bugs as well as pedestrians. So, Google envisions an exterior "eggshell" covering that goes on top of the adhesive layer. This would break instantaneously in the event of a crash, says the patent, "revealing the adhesive layer below, and bonding to the pedestrian."
The patent notes that other manufacturers have tried different mechanisms to prevent pedestrian injuries during a collision. These include a system built by Jaguar that raises the hood of the car after an impact to provide a softer crumple zone for the unfortunate pedestrian, and another by Volvo that actually deploys airbags out of the bonnet. Neither of these, say the patent, address the potential injuries when a pedestrian is thrown from the car.
google's patent could create new problems too
T urning cars into glue-traps-on-wheels might create their own problems though. Bryant Walker, an Affiliate Scholar with Stanford Law School's Center for Internet & Society, told The Mercury News that the utility of the patent would really depend on "the chaos of the situation." For example, a pedestrian who might have previously been bounced off a car could be trapped there, obscuring the viewer of the driver as they crash into another vehicle or surface. In other words, solutions often create their own problems.
Smith added that despite these concerns, Google should still be praised for thinking of the safety of individuals other than 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."