Google is working on developing a strange new car hood that has turned a lot of industry heads. It was recently awarded a patent that proposes placing a strong adhesive on the hood of its autonomous cars. This is meant to be a precaution just in case an autonomous car strikes a pedestrian or cyclist; the people would become stuck to the hood of the car, thus protected from the “secondary impact” of being thrown off of the car and onto the ground or another car. Secondary impacts are generally the cause of more serious injuries than the actual impact of that car itself.

stickGoogle filed for the patent a few years back and seems to be trying to cover its bases in terms of temporary solutions that will lower the risks of people getting hurt around self-driving cars as the technology develops from nascent to public. Google had this to say:

“While such systems are being developed, it must be acknowledged that, on occasion, collisions between a vehicle and a pedestrian still occur. Such safety mechanisms may become unnecessary as accident-avoidance technology is being further developed, but at present it is desirable to provide vehicles with pedestrian safety mechanisms.”

The glue being used on the hood of Google cars is described to have something like a “eggshell” of a coating over its main adhesive layer. This is meant to keep small things from sticking to the car like insects and other small animals, but to stick strongly given an impact that occurs with substantial force and waste, like that of a human body colliding with the car.

Does this have any chance of actually working? Rebecca Thompson, head of public outreach for the American Physical Society, had this to say:

“Getting hit by a car once is much preferable to getting hit by a car and then the ground and then another car… Cyclists wear helmets not as much to prevent their head’s impact with the car as much as their head’s impact with the ground when they fall.”

Some think that this might be a crazy enough idea to work, and if it does, that many large objects that move in public might be outfitted with a similar sticky substance.

fly paper car“This is essentially a variation on an external airbag, which on its face seems like a good idea for a low-speed vehicle as a backup safety measure,” stated Gabe Klein, former head of DC’s and Chicago’s departments of transportation. Klein now advises mobility-related investment funds and startups. “Why not consider it for non-autonomous vehicles?” Klein wonders.

Perhaps because it would create extremely awkward situations for drivers hoping to pull off a hit-and-run without being late for work. In New York City, a bicyclist may well find him- or herself on the other side of town before he or she has a change to de-stick.

Thompson says the sticky hoods might cut down on hit-and-runs, but they also might cause cars to have trouble moving to safety or even drag a human’s limbs under the wheels.

Leave a Reply