While Google’s driverless cars have notched-up over 700,000 miles without causing a single crash (one car was rear-ended and another crashed while being driven manually), it seems Google plans to cover all the bases. It has today been granted a patent on external cushioning to protect pedestrians in a collision.
External airbags are not a new invention–as Quartz notes, Volvo already has these on some vehicles. Google’s patent takes the idea a stage further, combining bumper-mounted airbags with foam bumpers behind them. The idea is to ensure that after the airbag has deployed, pedestrians aren’t then bounced off the car body.
A system for protecting a pedestrian during impact with a vehicle, the system having a bumper adapted for attachment to an end of the vehicle, wherein the bumper is comprised of a plurality of air sacs, wherein the bumper has a horizontal thickness extends from the end of the vehicle, wherein at least some of the plurality of air sacs stretch and then burst during impact between the bumper and a pedestrian causing deceleration along the horizontal width of the bumper during the impact, wherein the bumper undergoes plastic deformation during impact with the pedestrian as the at least some of the air sacs burst during impact, and wherein the bursting of some of the plurality of air sacs reduces spring back of the bumper on the pedestrian.
Given likely nervousness about the idea of driverless cars, Google may also be thinking about ways to reassure both the public and regulatory authorities.
Google isn’t the only tech giant exploring autonomous cars: Apple is believed to be working on its own version too.