Google Self-Driving Cars Could Have Pedestrian Bumper Air Bags

Mar 26, 2015 04:38 PM EDT | Matt Mercuro

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Most vehicles are equipped with air bags designed to protect passengers in the event of a crash. Google wants to take that strategy a step forward by putting air bags in the bumper of its self-driving cars to protect pedestrians.

Google has been awarded a new patent that shows an external air bag system in action that inflates if a car hits a pedestrian or another object, according to the patent filing.

The air bags would be mounted on the outside of cars and will only deploy if the vehicle senses a collision with a pedestrian is imminent.

The patent filing mentions that traditional air bags and car bumpers won't be useful when fitted outside the vehicle since they could cause pedestrians to bounce off and injure themselves.

"With current conventional bumper designs, a pedestrian may suffer an initial injury upon initial impact with the vehicle bumper during a collision, and also suffer a secondary injury after impacting the roadway or other object after rebounding from the vehicle bumper as a result of the "spring back" of the bumper," Google said in its filing.

The new bumper would be adapted for "attachment to an end of the vehicle, wherein the bumper is comprised of a visco-elastic material" and has a "horizontal thickness that extends from the end of the vehicle," according to the patent filing.

Google says the visco-elastic material would then undergo deformation and cause "deceleration along the horizontal width of the bumper" during impact between the pedestrian and the bumper.

Though Google hasn't confirmed what the "visco-elastic material" could be yet, it could be "a consistency somewhere between that of an earplug and memory foam," according to Quartz.

Google is working hard on its driverless car, spending thousands of hours testing self-driving technologies in California. Just two recorded incidents have involved Google vehicles, one when a vehicle was rear-ended and another when a car was being operated manually.

The California-based firm wants its self-driving car ready by 2020.

Volvo is also testing pedestrian air bags, but they don't have a memory-foam-like bumpers, according to Popular Science.

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