Google has a lot of self-driving cars that have driven a lot of miles, but so far, no commercial use for them. But that could change if the Silicon Valley giant pursues its rumored plans of developing an autonomous ride-sharing network to compete with Uber and Lyft. Recently, Google filed a patent application that could be seen as the first shot across Uber’s bow.
The application, first noticed earlier this month by the website Patent Yogi, is for efficiently determining pickup and destination locations for autonomous vehicles. Google says it wants to operate fully self-driving cars where passengers provide some initial input, such as a pick up or destination location, and the vehicle maneuvers itself to that location.
But not all locations are accessible or safe for autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars may not be able to drive everywhere a human driven vehicle can, such as construction zones or lanes only for emergency vehicles.
Google aims to address that challenge in its patent application. When provided with a location, Google says a centralized dispatching system would provide a set of suggested locations for safe pick-ups, waiting, or drop-offs. These suggested locations may include those provided by the user and convenient nearby locations. As such, the patented technology increases the “availability, safety, and usefulness of the services of autonomous vehicles,” Google’s application reads.
Uber also directs passengers to more convenient pick-up locations, mostly through its carpooling feature and other transit-focused products.
This isn’t the first patent filed by Google in relation to its self-driving efforts. Last year, the tech company was granted a patent for a unique solution to minimize injuries when a self-driving car strikes a pedestrian. The patent describes "an adhesive layer positioned on the front end of the vehicle" that pedestrians will simply stick to "in the event of a collision” — in other words, human flypaper.