Google’s Driverless Car Might Come with Airbags on the Outside
With nearly every major automaker working on autonomous car technology, it won’t be too long before we are sharing the road with driverless vehicles.
Driverless cars, with all their on-board sensors and computer systems, should of course be considerably safer than today’s vehicles when they finally take to the road. Still, there may be occasions where accidents still happen, for example, if it’s too dangerous for a car to swerve away from the pedestrian and there’s too little distance to come to a complete stop.
Most cars have airbags that are designed to protect passengers in a crash, but Google’s driverless cars may go a step further, with airbags designed to protect nearby pedestrians.
Google is working on a driverless car that already has spent countless test hours learning the rules of the road. In a new patent awarded today to Google today (March 24), the company outlined a system for external airbags and bumpers that could deploy in the event of an accident. One idea suggested in the patent is to mount airbags on the outside of the cars, to create a buffer for pedestrians. These airbags would deploy when the car senses that a collision with another vehicle is imminent.
A patent for the design, which has just been granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, explains how the airbag would be concealed within a specially made bumper. Now, you may be thinking, “Yeah, but any guy slammed with a Google airbag is gonna get bounced right out of town straight into the nearest cemetery,” or something along those lines.
But the Mountain View company has thought of that, too. To minimize the chances of killing the pedestrian rather than saving their life, Google explains that its airbag would be made with a special visco-elastic material, akin to the memory foam in a mattress.
According to the patent, such material “does not immediately return to an original shape after impact thereby reducing spring back of the bumper on the pedestrian.” In other words, it should have a reasonable amount of give in it, reducing the chances of serious injury, though having said that, it’s easy to imagine the pedestrian still hitting the deck after bouncing over the hood and possibly the roof as well, albeit with legs intact.
Google is not the only company working on external airbags: Volvo has pedestrian-sensing airbags on some of its vehicles, but they don’t have the memory-foam-like bumpers behind them. It’s still unclear whether these bumpers in fact will be included in Google’s driverless cars; the company wasn’t immediately available to comment. But the concept certainly appears to make sense as a means of protecting pedestrians. As potential parties to collisions go, we tend to be rather squishy.