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Airbags on the outside? Google spinoff Waymo sees cars predicting crashes and softening the impact


One of the benefits of an all-seeing self-driving car is its ability to know in advance when a collision is unavoidable, a new patent from autonomous vehicle firm Waymo suggests.

“An important component of an autonomous vehicle is the perception system, which allows the vehicle to perceive and interpret its surroundings using cameras, radar, sensors, and other similar devices,” notes the patent granted to the Google spinoff Oct. 31.

A self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan from Google spin-off Waymo (courtesy of Waymo)

When the system determines “that an impact with an object is likely to occur within a predetermined period of time,” exterior airbags can be activated, according to the patent.

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“While avoiding collisions with other objects is a primary goal for autonomous vehicles, in rare circumstances, there may be an imminent and unavoidable impact.

“While airbags are typically used to protect passengers within a vehicle, they may also be used to reduce a likelihood of injury to an object external to an autonomous vehicle during a collision with the vehicle.”

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The patent proposes that having airbags around the outside of a vehicle could reduce “the likelihood of severe injuries or damage to objects such as pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, other vehicles, or simply inanimate objects.”

The system could also protect passengers inside the self-driving car, the patent says.

Image: Drawing of a self-driving car equipped with external airbags, hitting a cyclist (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office)

Tags: airbags, autonomous, car, Google, patent, self-driving, vehicle, Waymo