Why Google Is Turning My Car Into Fly Paper

Dr. Jill M. Bjerke

Picture this:  You are driving your car when suddenly a pedestrian appears in your path.  You have no choice but to strike the pedestrian. What you weren’t expecting though is for that pedestrian to now become stuck to the hood of your car.

What may sound like a cartoon, is in fact, the basis for new technology being explored and currently patented by Google. And while the rationale behind it is intriguing, it still has a long way to go before it becomes reality.

Is this even feasible though? “A single collision with a sticky hood is better from a physics standpoint,” according to Rebecca Thompson, head of public outreach for the American Physical Society.

“Getting hit by a car once is much preferable to getting hit dont-get-hit-by-a-carby a car and then the ground and then another car,” said Thompson. “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.”

Google has said the overriding purpose is to have a system of sensors and cameras driven by software that can predict (and thereby avoid) many dangerous driving situations.

They are currently exploring this by using their autonomous vehicles and applying an adhesive layer that would coat the hood, front bumper and front side panels of a car.  If a pedestrian is hit, they would be essentially glued to the car instead of bouncing off.  A thin coating would protect this sticky layer until an impact with it occurs.

What might be considered “unusual” safety features for autos is nothing new.  Citroen and Jaguar use what is described as “a device for deploying the hood of an automotive vehicle upwardly in the event of impact with a pedestrian.” Other companies, like Land Rover and Volvo, have utilized airbags on a vehicle’s exterior that deploy upon impact to protect a pedestrian from injury.

Nissan’s pop up engine hood” uses tiny explosive bursts to slightly raise the hood of the auto if it senses an impact to help prevent pedestrians from hitting their heads. Nissan’s web site states, “When the car hits a pedestrian, a sensor in the bumper signals the pop-up control unit, which judges its necessity, will trigger an explosive actuator that pops the hood up”

But let’s not kid ourselves.  The idea of turning a car into a literal “glue trap” is not without its flaws.  Going back to that picture I created at the beginning, can you imagine trying to move the auto to a safe spot with a person stuck to the hood?  Or could the person sustain even worse injuries if their arms or legs were dragged?  This is obviously a less than enticing thought.

Still in all, the concept does have intriguing value above its original application.

“Turning cars into giant glue traps is certainly a feature that could have urban applications beyond autonomous vehicles. If it proves to be a good idea—and it still has to be proven—it could be applied to all potentially dangerous moving objects. “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,” said Gabe Klein, former head of DC’s and Chicago’s departments of transportation, who now advises mobility-related investment funds and startups. ‘Why not consider it for non-autonomous vehicles?’”

In a common scenario of one discovery leading to another, I am definitely fascinated by this statement from Dan Sturges, of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.  “Google’s patent for pedestrian safety glue is especially creative, but a similar goal might be achieved using vehicle-to-person (V2P) tech.  Given their role with Android OS, they could have the world’s smartphones telling pedestrians when they are at risk of getting hit. So, use Google tech to avoid pedestrian-to-car accidents by using their pervasive tech.”

This type of V2P tech, to me, has incredible value especially for older adults who tend to move slowly across pedestrian walkways or are not paying attention to oncoming traffic.

As has always been true with so much of technology, one discovery could well open the doors to others!


King, Hope.  “Google Patent Would Glue Pedestrians To Self-driving Cars.”  Monay.com. CNN Money. 19 May 2016. Web. 18 July 2016.

Woolf, Nicky. “Google Patents ‘Sticky’ Layer To Protect Pedestrians In Self-Driving Car Accidents.”  TheGuardian.com.  Guardian News and Media, Ltd. 18 May 2016. Web. 18 August 2016.

Walker, Alissa.  “Google Patented a Sticky Car Hood That Traps Pedestrians Like Flies.” Gizmodo.com.  18 May 2016. Web. 17 June 2016.


Image credit: 2.bp.blogspot.com

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