On May 17, 2016, the government granted Google a patent for a new sticky adhesive technology that can be applied to the front end of a vehicle. This patents aims to reduce injury in the event that one of the company’s self-driving cars strikes a pedestrian, minimizing their chances of being flung into traffic or surrounding areas.
According to the description in the patent itself, the adhesive coating is activated on contact and will instantaneously adhere to the pedestrian, constraining their movement in order to protect them. In theory, the material will adhere to the pedestrian, carrying them on the front end of the vehicle until the driver, or the car itself in the case of autonomous cars, reacts to the impact and applies the brakes. The purpose, according to the patent, is so that both the pedestrian and the self driving car can come to a more gradual stop than if the pedestrian were to have bounced off of the vehicle.
Although the patent is specifically aimed at the autonomous car market, it indicates that it can effectively be used on any type of vehicle.
The idea of a device that protects pedestrians from impact has been around for some time. Some car companies have already taken steps to adopt these new technologies. For example, Citroen and Jaguar provide a device that raises the car’s bonnet 6.5 centimeters on impact, providing a cushion for impact between the surface of the car and the engine block beneath. Other companies, including Land Rover and Volvo, offer a different technology like exterior airbags that deploy on impact, protecting pedestrians from personal injuries.
The problem with these other devices is that they do not mitigate the secondary impact a pedestrian may experience. Google’s patent would attach a pedestrian to the vehicle, so they could not be thrown into traffic or landscape, which could prevent further car accidents from occurring.
Google has not stated whether it has active plans to install this adhesive on all self-driving cars in the future. According to a Google spokesperson, some ideas the company holds patents on mature into real products and services, while some do not.
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