Waymo has now scooped up a self-driving car patent for reducing surface rigidity of its vehicles, in an aim to make it possible for those cars to cause less damage to others in the unfortunate event of a collision between the self-driving car and other vehicles or property. According to the patent, the car would essentially be able to tell when it was about to hit something using one or more sensors, and then adjust the surface tension of the area on the vehicle where the collision would happen which would potentially result in less damage.
With the car being able to lower its surface rigidity it's not clear whether or not that would pose more of a risk to the passenger inside the self-driving car, but presumably if Waymo has obtained a patent for such a feature of its autonomous cars, it'll likely be working out ways to ensure that while attempting to lower the amount of damage caused by a self-driving car in an accident it isn't doing so at the risk of increasing the potential damage that could come to self-driving car passengers.
Though it's not necessarily the method that Waymo will end up using, the patent describes the possibility of making certain parts of the vehicle rigid with the use of tension cables. While these cables were under tension, surface areas like the hood, fenders, and bumpers would be more rigid, but at the onset of a collision, sensors would pick up that a collision was about to happen, where the impact would be on the vehicle, and reduce the tension to the cables in that area to make the area less rigid, which would lower the amount of damage to whatever was impacted by the vehicle, as the vehicle surface would essentially be softer. Waymo and other companies have been making inroads and progress in the advancement of their self-driving car technology but a common concern that has persisted revolves around the safety of other people on the road. This new patent shows that Waymo is coming up with some interesting ways to combat those concerns and increase the safety factor of driverless vehicles in accident scenarios.