Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo could be looking to develop a system that would soften the surface of its autonomous vehicles in the event of a crash and reduce the likelihood of fatalities, according to a patent filed by the company.
The patent, which has been granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, details a system that could detect whether an object is about to collide with the car and can adapt the rigidity of its surface accordingly.
“Collisions involving at least one vehicle occur frequently and often cause serious harm,” the patent reads. “The force of the vehicle’s impact is a primary factor in the amount of damage that is caused by the vehicle. Accordingly, it is desirable to design a vehicle that can reduce the force of impact experienced during a collision.”
The system could work by using sensors and processors to detect whether a person, cyclist or animal is about to collide with the car.
The processor could then adapt mechanisms, or “tension members”, in the surface of the car exterior in order to reduce the impact of a collision.
The “tension members” could take the form of cables, which are either cut, released or loosened to reduce tension in the surface of the car exterior.
The rigidity of different areas of the vehicle’s surface could then be altered depending on where the collision takes place, such as within the hood, bumper or side panel.
Some areas of the car’s surface could also be corrugated to lessen the impact.
Waymo has not confirmed whether it plans to produce the feature in the future.