Ever since Google rolled out its concept for self-driving cars, critics have wondered about the safety of such a venture. While the cars have logged over 1.5 million miles in self-driving mode, a few minor accidents show improvements are necessary.
One of the biggest concerns for safety is when the self-driving cars interact with pedestrians. People on foot can be much harder to avoid than a vehicle, which means Google must improve its pedestrian avoidance measures. One of Google's latest patents looks to help reduce pedestrian casualties and injuries with a novel safety feature.
Google Patents a Flypaper-like Pedestrian Catching System
Google's recently approved patent shows plans for covering the hood of its self-driving cars with a strong adhesive encased by an eggshell-like coating. The coating will keep things from sticking to the hood, but will shatter upon impact to reveal the adhesive underneath.
Google engineers hope the adhesive will hold the pedestrian on the hood of the car, preventing them from bouncing off the vehicle or falling to the ground and being run over. The idea is still only a concept on paper and has yet to prove effective in a real-world scenario.
Critics of the flypaper system bring up the point that if the flypaper traps a pedestrian whose limb is still in contact with the pavement, it could cause serious road rash or traumatic amputation. Trapping the pedestrian also puts them at risk for serious injury if the car continues moving and hits another object head-on.
Engineers are also concerned over the effectiveness of the flypaper at higher speeds. The adhesive would need to hold a passenger securely until the vehicle comes to a complete stop.
There is Still Much Skepticism Over the Safety of Self-Driving Cars
While there are several companies working on self-driving cars, we are still a long way away from implementing them in daily commutes. Google is constantly revising and improving their systems for pedestrian identification and tracking, as well as traffic pattern recognition and real-time navigation.
Google has already filed several other patents about improving the safety of their self-driving vehicles. A patent filed in November 2015 showed plans for electronic screens on the sides and front bumper of their cars. These screens would display signals to warn pedestrians if the car was stopping to yield or about to make a turn.
Internally, Google is extending the reach of its software to utilize deep network connections and neural networking. These advanced technologies will allow the cars to map their surroundings and better judge the movement of obstacles and other road hazards. Eventually, Google hopes to achieve real-time processing of its car's immediate surroundings to aid in pedestrian and hazard avoidance.
The Legal Implications of Self-Driving Cars is Still a Gray Area
Liability has been a question on many minds since the introduction of the self-driving car. There is no clear legal standard for how the law will handle liability for an accident or fatality if the at-fault vehicle is a self-driving one. Until more cars are on the roads and states begin enacting legislation, it will be a waiting game to see how these driverless car accidents will pan out.