Self-driving cars may soon know how to drive on their own, navigate where you want to go—and maybe even expand or retract before a crash. Google’s autonomous vehicle company, Waymo, has recently received a patent for softer cars, according to United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
These cars won’t be made out of sponge, foam, or even flypaper (Waymo’s last patent idea). The carmaker plans to use artificial intelligence technology to adjust the car’s rigidity before any possible impact could occur.
“The vehicle may identify and respond to a potential collision by altering the tension that is applied to one or more tension members, thereby altering the rigidity of the vehicle's surface,” the patent reads.
These “tension members” would be located inside the car, and could be cables, rods, and/or springs. In theory, the car’s “brain” would allow it to sense an incoming collision and adjust these members accordingly.
If the vehicle “thinks” it will be hitting another car or building, the members would tighten and increase the car’s rigidity. Conversely, if the car is about to hit a person or animal, the members would slacken, thus reducing any impact.
The artificial intelligence aspect of this project would allow the vehicle to learn over time on the road, giving the system the ability to distinguish between a potential collision with a child versus an adult, or a bicyclist versus a pedestrian, and adjust its rigidity accordingly.
So far, this idea is simply that—an idea. It has not been applied to any new vehicle, nor does the technology yet exist. However, Google and Waymo officials both believe that when fleshed out, this technology could save lives.