Google has patented a new “sticky” technology to protect pedestrians if – or when – they get struck by the company’s self-driving cars.
The patent, which was granted on 17 May, is for a sticky adhesive layer on the front end of a vehicle, which would aim to reduce the damage caused when a pedestrian hit by a car is flung into other vehicles or scenery.
“Ideally, the adhesive coating on the front portion of the vehicle may be activated on contact and will be able to adhere to the pedestrian nearly instantaneously,” according to the patent description.
“This instantaneous or nearly-instantaneous action may help to constrain the movement of the pedestrian, who may be carried on the front end of the vehicle until the driver of the vehicle (or the vehicle itself in the case of an autonomous vehicle) reacts to the incident and applies the brakes.”
“As such,” it continues, “both the vehicle and pedestrian may come to a more gradual stop than if the pedestrian bounces off the vehicle.”
Google’s adhesive layer patent. Photograph: United States Patent and Trademark Office
The patent describes itself as specifically aimed at self-driving cars but notes that it can be used on any vehicle.
Car companies have already taken steps to protect pedestrians from impact. Citroen and Jaguar use a device that raises the car’s bonnet 6.5cm on impact to provide a cushion for impact between the crumpling surface and the solid engine block beneath. Others, such as Land Rover and Volvo, have developed outside airbags that deploy on impact to protect a pedestrian from injury.
However, the patent observes, “existing technology found in production vehicles does little to mitigate the secondary impact a pedestrian may experience”.
It is not known whether Google has active plans to install the new technology on their self-driving cars in the future. The company did not respond immediately to a request from the Guardian for comment, but a spokesperson told the San Jose Mercury News, who first reported the story, that “we hold patents on a variety of ideas. Some of those ideas later mature into real products and services, some don’t.”