Google’s autonomous cars may have exterior airbags

When you make a car that is much less likely to crash than traditional ones and you combine that with all of the modern safety features that we have to make crashes that do occur much less likely to be serious, then the next area of improvement needs to be those that get hit by the car. That’s why Google is thought likely to be considering putting airbags on the exterior of its future autonomous cars, in an effort to protect pedestrians that step out in-front of one of their little pod vehicles.

While there has been no official announcement by Google, there’s evidence in the fact that a patent it was awarded just this week, shows exactly that. Airbags in the bumpers of a car. This takes things a step further from Google’s previous designs, which had foam bumpers rather than hard plastic ones used by traditional car makers. These were technically only usable because the cars would never travel more than 25 miles per hour, but it would be interesting to see whether they could travel a bit faster if they replaced the foam with standard bumpers with built in airbags.


In the patent, the airbags are said to deploy when the vehicle believes an impact is imminent, which it would be able to detect with its arrays of sensors.

However, the airbags that are deployed, would be very different from the ones we use at the moment to cushion impacts on the interior of the vehicle. If those traditionally relatively powerful and high pressure airbags were used, it would be just as likely to propel the person into the ground with enough force to hurt them, as it would be to cushion them from the impact from the vehicle. Instead, Google’s patent suggests that a new type of material could be used, more akin to the foam used in earplugs or memory foam.

This is all precautionary measures of course, since it’s very unlikely that Google’s driverless vehicles – or any autonomous ones for that matter – will ever collide with people. The only time that should happen, is when pedestrians unwittingly step out in front of one, which while it does happen, is pretty rare in today’s society, so should be even more so with automated vehicles running around, since they’ll be able to react quicker than most humans would.

Do you think this is the kind of technology Google will build into its cars? How could it make the foam expand fast enough?




    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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