Google Patent | "Google Patents 'Landing Strip' for Self-Driving Cars"

By: Mark Hachman
Category : Google Patent

Google Patent
Google has successfully patented a "landing strip" technology for its self-driving cars, providing a method for the cars to automatically slip into autonomous mode and find parking spots.

The "landing strip" appears to be little more than an embedded sensor in the ground, whether it be a radio, QR code, or some other means of transferring information to the car. The key, however, is the information and how the car uses it.

The patent, first noted by TechRadar, was approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Dec. 13.

Google first disclosed its self-driving car in Oct. 2010, already in an advanced stage of development. In October, Google's Sergey Brin, who is overseeing the autonomous car as part of his focus on developing research, said that technical challenges remain, as well as simply gaining permission from states to allow self-driving cars across their roadways.
Google Self-Driving Car Landing Strip Patent

Brin reported in October that his teams have already driven more than 1,000 miles without the need for a driver to manually take control of the vehicle, but that an aggregate total of 1 million miles was necessary. Sebastian Thrun, who leads the dedicated car team at Google, wrote that Google's cars have driven more than 200,000 miles without an accident.

Google's latest patent suggests a scenario where the car would actually stop and transition from an autonomous mode to a user-controlled mode. An image accompanying the patent suggests Google would use a giant QR code that could be painted on the roadway and scanned optically, although the patent text suggests that a RF, cellular connection, or other medium could be used. Google's cars use GPS technology to orient themselves, but in certain cases a GPS signal may not be accessible.

The landing "strip" could also be a parking spot, where an electric vehicle could charge.

Google also suggests that the landing strip could either contain a request to download new instructions, or communicate new data within the strip itself. Although Google uses lasers and other devices to detect objects and determine its own location, the patent suggests that it could update its databases, or receive instructions to move 100 feet forward, turn left 20 degrees, and proceed forward 100 feet.

"For example, the autonomous vehicle may be used as a virtual tour guide of Millennium Park in Chicago," the patent states. "In the example embodiment, the vehicle may have an instruction to drive to the Cloud Gate (Silver Bean) sculpture at Millennium Park. When the vehicle arrives, the autonomous instruction may tell it to wait in the location for a predetermined amount of time, for example 5 minutes. The instruction may then direct the vehicle to drive to the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park and again wait for 5 minutes. Next, the instruction may tell the vehicle to drive to the Ice Rink at Millennium Park and wait for another predetermined amount of time. Finally, the vehicle instruction may tell the vehicle to return to its starting position."

"In some embodiments, the vehicle instruction may be a fixed instruction telling the vehicle a single route and timing for the route," Google's patent added. "In another embodiment, the autonomous instruction may be a list of possible instructions presented to a human in the vehicle. The human may be able to select a point of interest and the vehicle will responsively execute the associated autonomous instruction. In a further embodiment, the vehicle instruction is a single command telling the vehicle to drive itself to one specific location."

One aspect that the patent apparently does not cover: using the landing strip as a transition from a self-driving region to a region where the user would need to take control of his or her own vehicle, such as a transition off of a freeway into a residential neighborhood.