After Google’s Self-Driving Car Hits a Bus, Company Awarded Patent for ‘Autonomous Vehicle Bus Detection’

Autonomy, meet irony.

Google Car Patent
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority via AP

You’ll find it in the index under “Irony, slow burn”: On March 13, 2014 Google applied for a patent for “Bus Detection for an Autonomous Vehicle.” On February 14, 2016 one of Google’s autonomous crossovers got into an accident—with a city bus. On March 8, 2016 the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Google’s patent for bus detection. Sometime around late 2015 we imagine the god of autonomy telling his AI angels, “Wait for it….”

The patent outlined how a self-piloted car could detect a school bus, its arsenal of detection systems comparing the known proportions of a school bus to other vehicles on the road and registering the color yellow, the presence of a stop sign, and the word “School” written somewhere. In case of a match, the car would alter its driving to prepare for unpredictable stops and the unloading of minions.

Metro buses aren’t yellow and their drivers don’t tend to give way, facts we’re certain the autonomous fleet is now clear on. Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving-car unit, gave a SXSW talk explaining the incident and said his team “implemented 3,500 new tests to make sure this won’t happen again.”

The municipal transport accident was a mere bump, though, at a closing speed of 2 miles per hour. The primary takeaway was that it marked the first time one of Google’s 56 self-driving cars had caused an accident in more than seven years and 1.4 million miles of driving. The follow-up implication was that Google’s engineers hadn’t yet installed the code for “Size Matters.”