Waymo fleshes out self-driving car tech with hardware that goes soft at first sign of trouble

Shriveling vehicle patented

Waymo self-driving minivan

Waymo has been granted a patent to deck out its self-driving cars in a material that becomes less rigid when its sensors detect a high chance of collision.

Autonomous cars have unresolved safety issues. Although these machines might not suffer from the dangers of fatigue or road rage, they still aren’t completely safe. Collisions are inevitable – if not from problems with the software and sensors then the fact that some human drivers tend to run into the things out of impatience or incompetence.

Waymo is hoping to minimize the damage of car crashes by using tension cables or a grooved surface that softens upon impact.

“The force of the vehicle's impact is a primary factor in the amount of damage that is caused by the vehicle. Accordingly, it is desirable to design a vehicle that can reduce the force of impact experienced during a collision,” according to the patent filing.

The idea is that sensors detecting an imminent crash with an object in the vehicle’s surroundings will kickstart a mechanism that decreases the rigidity of the vehicle.

Tension cables attached to the surface of the vehicle can be relaxed by “cutting, releasing, or loosening” the cables so that the tension is reduced. “The surface of the vehicle may be at least one of a hood, bumper, or panel. A portion of the surface may be corrugated.”

That's not the only safety patent granted to the self-driving startup. Last year, Waymo filed a bizarre patent for an “adhesive vehicle front end.” Coating the bumper in a sticky layer will supposedly glue the colliding object – such as a pedestrian – to the front of the car during the impact like flypaper, to protect them from “secondary impacts.” ®

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