This week the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a granted patent from Google showing off one of their moon-shot ideas. It's an invention designed to literally glue a person to the hood of the car if they're struck by your autonomous vehicle. The paint job, on impact, will turn into a super strength adhesive that will adhere the pedestrian to the hood so as to help them not experience a secondary impact. There's saying that "There's a fine line between genius and insanity." So I'm not quite sure what side of the line this invention resides. What say you?
Google's Patent Background
Autonomous vehicles use various computing systems to aid in transporting passengers from one location to another. Some autonomous vehicles may require some initial input or continuous input from an operator, such as a pilot, driver, or passenger. Other systems, for example autopilot systems, may be used only when the system has been engaged, which permits the operator to switch from a manual mode (where the operator exercises a high degree of control over the movement of the vehicle) to an autonomous mode (where the vehicle essentially drives itself) to modes that lie somewhere in between.
Motorized vehicles have been used for over 100 years to transport people and products from one location to another location. On occasion, an accident will occur, for a variety of reasons, where a vehicle will collide with another vehicle or object, or even a person. The collision may cause damage to the driven vehicle or the vehicle or object collided with, and may also cause injury to the occupants of the vehicle or the person collided with. As noted above, some vehicles have been equipped with autopilot systems, which permits the vehicle operator to switch from a manual mode to an autonomous mode or to modes that lie somewhere in between that may serve to prevent and/or reduce vehicle collisions.
As a result of the vehicle accidents that occasionally occur, in addition to the autopilot systems, certain protective features have been installed into vehicles. For example, automobiles have been structurally designed to meet certain crashworthiness standards to protect the occupants of a vehicle involved in a collision. In addition, bumpers have been installed on the front and rear of an automobile to prevent injury to the automobile in the event of a low speed collision. Vehicle bumpers are generally designed to absorb energy to prevent injury to the vehicle during a collision, but generally do not provide significant protection for a pedestrian struck by the vehicle.
Some efforts have been made to provide for the mitigation of injury to a pedestrian in a collision with a vehicle. Such systems include a deployable hood featured on certain Jaguar models which raise the hood a certain amount instantaneously upon impact, thus providing a more compliant surface for the pedestrian to impact. A similar technology featured on Volvo models in Europe deploys an airbag on the exterior of the vehicle at the base of the windshield meant to lessen the severity of the impact between the pedestrian's head and any portion of the vehicle. However, existing technology found in production vehicles does little to mitigate the secondary impact a pedestrian may experience after during a collision with a vehicle.
In the event of a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian, injury to the pedestrian is often caused not only by the initial impact of the vehicle and the pedestrian, but also by the ensuing, secondary impact between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object. Specifically, when a pedestrian is in a collision with a vehicle, the nature of the collision causes the pedestrian to be carried along with the vehicle for a period of time. As this occurs, the kinetic energy of the moving vehicle accelerates the pedestrian to a certain velocity until the driver of the vehicle reacts to the accident by applying the brakes. At this point, the pedestrian continues travelling at the same velocity but is decoupled or "thrown" from the vehicle where a secondary impact occurs between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object. This secondary impact can often cause severe injuries to the pedestrian as the road surface or other object does not exhibit any sort of compliance or cushioning as the vehicle front end might.
Google's granted patent discloses embodiments that relate to a system for protecting a pedestrian during impact with a vehicle. The system includes an adhesive layer that is positioned on the hood, front bumper, and/or front side panels of the vehicle. A protective coating is positioned over the adhesive layer. Upon impact with a pedestrian, the coating is broken exposing the adhesive layer. The adhesive bonds the pedestrian to the vehicle so that the pedestrian remains with the vehicle until it stops, and is not thrown from the vehicle, thereby preventing a secondary impact between the pedestrian and the road surface or other object.
In one aspect, a system for protecting a colliding object from a secondary impact, after an initial impact with a vehicle, is provided including a vehicle having a front end, an adhesive layer positioned on the front end of the vehicle, a coating positioned over the adhesive layer, wherein, upon the initial impact between the colliding object and the vehicle, the coating is broken exposing the adhesive layer to adhere the colliding object to the adhesive layer during the initial impact.
In another aspect, a method for protecting a colliding object from a secondary impact, after an initial impact with a vehicle, is provided including the steps of positioning an adhesive layer on a front end of the vehicle, positioning a coating over the adhesive layer, wherein the coating has thickness and strength such that the coating is broken upon the initial impact between the colliding object and the vehicle to expose the adhesive layer, and adhering the colliding object to the adhesive layer during the initial impact, thereby preventing the colliding object from suffering a secondary impact.
In a further aspect, a system for protecting a colliding object from a secondary impact after a collision with a vehicle is provided including means for adhering the colliding object to the vehicle during the collision to prevent the colliding object from being thrown from the vehicle and incurring a secondary impact with the road surface or other object.
Google's patent FIG. 6A illustrated above shows us a side view of the front end of vehicle approaching a pedestrian (#270); FIG. 6B is a side view of the front end of the vehicle shown in FIG. 6A during initial impact with the pedestrian with adhesive layers (#220) and (#240) exposed after the coating has been broken into pieces (#232).
Example embodiments may be directed to a method and system that help to reduce, and hopefully prevent, the secondary impact of a pedestrian against a road surface or another object, which might otherwise occur when a pedestrian is involved in a collision with a moving vehicle. To do so, 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 the vehicle after the pedestrian impacts the hood. For example, by adhering the pedestrian that comes into contact with the front end, hood, and/or bumper, an example embodiment may prevent the pedestrian from bouncing forward off the front end, hood, and/or bumper, or being vaulted up and over the vehicle, thus helping to prevent injuries from a secondary impact with the road surface or other object that might otherwise occur.
Ideally, the adhesive coating on the front portion of the vehicle may be activated on contact and will be able to adhere to the pedestrian nearly instantaneously. This instantaneous or nearly-instantaneous action may help to constrain the movement of the pedestrian, who may be carried on the front end of the vehicle until the driver of the vehicle (or the vehicle itself in the case of an autonomous vehicle) reacts to the incident and applies the brakes. As such both the vehicle and pedestrian may come to a more gradual stop than if the pedestrian bounces off the vehicle.
In addition, the front portion of the vehicle may be protected from road debris, dirt, water, and other environmental factors by a thin coating applied over the adhesive layer. This "eggshell-like" material may also carry the aesthetic surface finish of the vehicle's exterior. However, this coating should instantaneously break away in the event of a pedestrian impact, revealing the adhesive layer below, and bonding to the pedestrian. In some embodiments a layer of air may be positioned between the adhesive layer and the thin, frangible coating. It is also desirable to have the adhesive coating release after a short period of time to allow for the removal of the pedestrian from the vehicle.
The use of an adhesive coating on the vehicle may further help to prevent or reduce the possibility of a "tertiary" impact in which a pedestrian who has already been involved in a vehicle collision and been vaulted a certain distance from the vehicle and impacted the roadway, once more collides with a nearby vehicle travelling in the vicinity (or possibly even the same vehicle). By adhering the pedestrian to the front of the vehicle, such a tertiary impact, which could lead to severe injury or even death, may be avoided, thus providing for additional pedestrian safety.
Google filed their now granted patent back in Q4 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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