Google's self-driving vehicles could soon catch pedestrians like flies down the line as the company has patented what it described as human flypaper, a "sticky" adhesive coating, in an aim to reduce the case of deadly road accidents.
Google has developed driverless vehicles that make use of smart technology. These cars are fitted with sensors, clever lane mapping and networking so the vehicles can stay away from obstacles much better than humans do, and also park perfectly.
However, statistics have shown that even with sophisticated technology, accidents still come to pass. For example, Google's own self-driving cars had two accidents just last month. To answer this dilemma, the Mountain View-based firm has filed a patent for a gluey coating to autonomous cars to prevent fatal injuries against pedestrians during road accidents.
The technology awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) would work as a human flypaper. The front bumper, hood and side panels of the car will be enclosed with the sticky coating. As soon as a pedestrian is hit, the protective layer will break apart and trap the pedestrian so that person would not be sent skywards, which may cause more injuries.
At the moment, Google is testing the autonomous technology on the streets of Austin, California, Phoenix and Washington.
The company also says in its filed patent that it's not the first one to carry out such an effort to alleviate road accidents. In Europe, Volvo's windshield base is equipped with external airbags to lessen collision impact in an accident. Jaguar also uses a deployable hood that provides a more flexible surface.
Usually, it's not the initial impact that causes the most injury. It happens when a person is thrown away from the vehicle and collides again with another solid object.
Google's new patent is not without problems, however. If a preson can stick to the hood, then bugs and dirt are also likely to stick, which can be messy. To avoid this, the company envisions a unique covering, an exterior eggshell that will easily break upon impact. This way, the bugs and dirt problems are nothing to worry aboout anymore.
"Upon impact with a pedestrian, the coating is broken exposing the adhesive layer," reads the summary of the submitted patent. "The adhesive bonds the pedestrian to the vehicle so that the pedestrian remains with the vehicle until it stops, and is not thrown from the vehicle, thereby preventing a secondary impact between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object."
Self-driving car expert and Affiliate Scholar with Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society Bryant Walker Smith, however, told The Mercury News that there's another problem using sticky cars. What if the person obscures the view of the driver, causing them to crash into another surface or vehicle?
Still, Smith praised Google for its solution.
"The idea that cars should be safe for people other than the ones in them is the next generation of automotive safety," said Smith. "I applaud anybody for thinking, as they should, about people outside of the vehicle."