Yes, this is a real image of real “pedestrian flypaper” which was taken from a patent filed by Google last week with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Although every patent filing should be taken with a huge grain of salt, there are some fairly practical reasons that the technology company, which is testing self-driving Google Cars, would be thinking out of the box on pedestrian accidents.
As the illustration shows, the front end of the Google car is made from a kind of adhesive, which is strong enough to keep the crash test dummy stuck to the car that just hit him. This is undeniably amusing, however, the company is being forward thinking about the human and financial cost of car accidents. Car collisions with pedestrians can be devastating because they usually feature two impacts. First, the person is hit by the car, then the person collides with the road or another vehicle.
Although Google and other proponents of autonomous cars believe the technology has the potential to dramatically reduce the number of accidents, some accidents are preventable. This is doubly true with respect to pedestrians. Google and other automakers envision a world where cars are all equipped with technology allowing them to communicate. But no technology will protect pedestrians.
Google’s patent application states it expects accidents to be cut by as much as 50 percent.
The front region of the vehicle may be coated with a specialized adhesive that adheres to a pedestrian, and thus holds the pedestrian on the vehicle in the unfortunate event that the front of the vehicle comes into contact with the pedestrian. The adhesion of the pedestrian to the vehicle may prevent the pedestrian from bouncing off.
It would also possibly provide an interesting scenario for hit-and-run accidents, because someone driving a car with an adhesive front would have the victim “stuck” to the front end as proof of the collision. Of course it’s not a done deal that this so-called flypaper ever makes it to vehicles. As a
Google spokeswoman told Mercury News, “We hold patents on a variety of ideas. Some of those ideas later mature into real products and services, some don’t.”
Google is not the first automaker to explore ways to lessen the damage of pedestrian collisions. Jaguar designed a system that raises a car’s hood post-collision, which means the pedestrian who is hit would be redirected to a crumple zone that would provide a softer landing. Volvo’s pedestrian airbag idea is for an airbag to deploy from the hood.
As for whether any of these ideas will work, Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at Stanford School of Law and self-driving car expert, has some doubts. Smith told The Mercury News that Google’s adhesive solution may create new and dangerous issues, like trapping the pedestrian in an even more dangerous position, as well as giving the driver an obscured view. The potential for another accident may be too high for the flypaper to work. However, Smith said Google and other automakers should be applauded for taking safety seriously. “The idea that cars should be safe for people other than the ones in them is the next generation of automotive safety. I applaud anybody for thinking, as they should, about people outside of the vehicle.”