Google spinoff Waymo patents the incredible floppy 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.

Get tech news in your inbox weekday mornings. Sign up for the free Good Morning Silicon Valley newsletter.

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.

Whether this technology will make it to America’s roads remains to be seen — many patents do not lead to actual products.


Photo: A self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan from Google spin-off Waymo (courtesy of Waymo)


Tags: , , , , ,


Share this Post

  • I think something that’s interesting to note is that the vehicle could behave very differently depending if there’s anyone inside or not. It would be interesting to see how they can tweak the parameters for when the vehicle is empty and driving without any passengers. You could potentially break much harder without the fear of harming people inside, potentially saving someone outside.

    • However, crashes are inevitable, and Google spinoff Waymo wants to design autonomous vehicles so damage is minimized.

  • aurizon

    Why not external airbags that anticipate the collisions, seems obvious to me?