A diagram from the patent showing how the victim would become stuck to the vehicle.
Driverless cars are coming, and soon. While critics have voiced legitimate concerns about how large numbers of autonomous vehicles will interact with even larger numbers of pedestrians and cyclists – both of whom are known to occasionally move about unpredictably – Google has been busy developing a solution, sort of.
The tech giant recently was recently awarded a patent for a strong adhesive coating that would stick a human to the front of a self-driving car, should they have the misfortune to be hit by one. As the San Jose Mercury News first reported, the fairly simple technology would essentially function like human flypaper, binding the pedestrian or cyclist to the front of car instantaneously upon impact, thereby preventing them from being thrown back onto the street where they’d be vulnerable to further injury.
“The adhesive layer may be a very sticky material and operate in a manner similar to flypaper, or double-sided duct tape,” the patent said. The patent acknowledged that autonomous cars will inevitably hit pedestrians or cyclists, so the glue hood is supposed to function as a temporary harm reduction solution until self-driving cars can be made completely accident-proof.
The duct tape-inspired “technology” would normally be protected by a thin, eggshell-like material to prevent it from collecting road dust, bugs, small birds or flying plastic bags during its everyday commute. When the car inevitably collides with a pedestrian or cyclist, the force of impact would shatter the shell and the bewildered, likely injured human would be left entrapped on the hood, like a fly in a spider’s web.
However, the awarding of this incredibly unusual patent does not mean this technology is actually going to make it to the streets anytime soon. Google holds patents on a variety of ideas, some make it to market and others don’t.
While we applaud Google’s efforts thus far to makes things as safe as possible for pedestrians and bicyclists, I’m not sure I’d throw my vote behind developing the flypaper idea any further. More than create a perfect solution, the sticky mess just raises a lot of questions. Would it really be safer to be stuck to the car than back down on the street? What if the impact caused an injury (say, to the spine), where dangling from the hood of a vehicle was more likely to exacerbate it then help it? What if a technological glitch caused the crash in the first place and the malfunctioning vehicle goes flying off into another vehicle with the poor pedestrian stuck to the front of it?
This is a classic case of a solution which creates its own new set of problems. What remains to be seen is if the potential benefits of the flytrap do actually outweigh its possible costs. In the meantime, I’ll be over here working on my fly costume, just in case.
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