Google spinoff Waymo patents self-driving car

If someone was going to whack you in the head with a turkey drumstick, would you want the drumstick to be frozen or thawed? Clearly, you’d want the thawed drumstick because it would have more give. The same principle more or less underlies a new self-driving car patent from Google spinoff Waymo. One of the strongest arguments in favor of rapid development of self-driving cars is the reduction in roadway carnage they will likely bring.

Robots, it’s generally agreed, are going to be much better drivers than people. However, crashes are inevitable, and Google spinoff Waymo wants to design autonomous vehicles so damage is minimized. When the company was still a unit within Google, it proposed via a patent application that cars could have a flypaper-like coating of glue on the hood so if they struck a pedestrian, the victim would stick to the hood and not get thrown off and injured further.

Now, Waymo has just received a patent for an autonomous vehicle that becomes less rigid when its sensors tell it that it’s about to get into a collision. “The force of the vehicle’s impact is a primary factor in the amount of damage that is caused by the vehicle,” said the patent granted Aug. 8. “Accordingly, it is desirable to design a vehicle that can reduce the force of impact experienced during a collision.” Just as thawing a turkey leg reduces the rigidity that could damage your noggin, making a car floppy reduces the damage it could cause to other vehicles or people.

Under the newly patented technology, a car’s hood, panels and bumpers could be made rigid with the use of cables under tension. Reducing the tension would reduce the rigidity of the car in the place it was going to be hit, according to the patent. How softening the shell of a car before impact might affect the safety of the people inside it was not addressed in the patent.

Source: Crain San Francisco