Collisions involving at least one vehicle occur frequently and often cause serious harm. The force of the vehicle’s impact is a primary factor in the amount of damage that is caused by the vehicle. Waymo is working to design a vehicle that can reduce the force of impact experienced during a collision.
The company recently received a patent for technology that would soften a car’s body in the event of a collision with a pedestrian. Aspects of the disclosure relate altering the rigidity of a vehicle’s surface. More particularly, the vehicle may contain tension members that are arranged so that a change in tension across one or more of the tension members will alter the rigidity of the vehicle’s surface. 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.
One aspect of the disclosure provides a system and method for altering a vehicle’s rigidity. The system and method may include detecting, by one or more sensors, an object in a vehicle’s surroundings; determining, by one or more processors, that the object and the vehicle will collide; and altering, by the one or more processors, a tension in one or more tension members based on the determination that the object and the vehicle will collide, wherein altering the tension of the one or more tension members alters a rigidity of a portion of the vehicle.
The tension members may be cables, and the tension of the cables may be reduced by one of cutting, releasing, or loosening the cables. In addition, the one or more tension members may be arranged with respect to a surface of the vehicle so that a reduction of tension in the one or more tension members reduces rigidity of the surface. The surface of the vehicle may be at least one of a hood, bumper, or panel. A portion of the surface may be corrugated.
The one or more tension members may be arranged with respect to a pillar of the vehicle so that reduction of tension in the one or more tension members reduces rigidity of the pillar. In addition, the pillar may include a plurality of sections, and wherein a sufficient tension within the one or more tension members prevents the plurality of sections from moving relative to one another.
Detecting the object may further include classifying the object, and altering the tension in the one or more tension members may be based, at least in part, on a classification of the object. The classification of the object may be one of a bicyclist, pedestrian, or animal.