Google patent: Driverless cars would detect police lights, pull over

Most drivers know to pull over to the side of the road when a cop car’s lights are flashing, or when an ambulance is rushing to the scene of an emergency. But let’s face it, some drivers don’t have a clue.

Google’s driverless cars to the rescue?

A recent patent filing by the tech giant describes how its self-driving cars could detect flashing lights, determine the type of emergency vehicle based on the color of the lights and the order in which they’re flashing and then pull over if needed.

In case anyone needs reminding, California Vehicle Code 21806 states: “The operator of every street car shall immediately stop the street car, clear of any intersection, and remain stopped until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed.” Other states’ vehicle codes have similar rules, but wordier.

The system described in the Google patent is designed to detect different light patterns so the autonomous cars won’t mistake other light sources such as street lights as sirens.

“Light sources that may be known to be unassociated with [emergency vehicles] based on geographic location data may be excluded from the set of the identified light sources,” says the patent, which was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week.

This patent is the latest in a series of car-related ones filed by Google, a pioneer in autonomous vehicle technology.  Other related patents it has filed address decision-making by self-driving cars, and opening windows or turning on the radio with a simple wave. And who could forget the patent that describes basically gluing a pedestrian to a car after a collision, supposedly for their safety? (Note that Google has pointed out that not all patents become reality.)


Photo: A Google self-driving car in Mountain View in 2015. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Minority

    And then some kid clears the road with a cell phone app that mimics police lights

  • edgecase

    Can you imagine a more obvious patent? If Google enforces this they will be encouraging people to run from police.