Patent for Automated Car Self-Destruct System Filed by EV Startup

Because your robot car should inform you it is about to go "kablooey" before fleeing your location.

What if your car knew that it was about to suffer a catastrophic meltdown, the kind that might cause harm to you and other occupants, or perhaps nearby structures or homes? And what if your car used that information to alert you to evacuate—before autonomously driving itself to a safe location to meet its destructive end? If that sounds like science fiction, well, as far as we know it still is, but electric-car startup NIO is definitely thinking about this sort of topic, based on a patent it filed back in 2017 for a "Self-destruct zone and autonomous vehicle navigation" protocol.

Now, you'll notice that the patent filed by NIO, which back then went by the name NextEV, isn't for only a self-destruct system. That's because, per NIO's filing with the United States Patent Office, the term "self-destruct" is used to describe an electric car's impending, self-catalyzed catastrophic loss. Think of thermal runaway in the battery (like what a limited number of Teslas and other EVs have suffered in recent years), or a massive power fault, rather than a user pressing a big red button that initiates an ominous countdown and, eventually, a dramatic explosion.

NIO has instead dreamt up a system that addresses the more realistic, albeit rare, instance in which an electric car's major systems fail in such a way that the car basically self-destructs on its own. Via onboard sensors and software, NIO hopes its system would automatically detect such a grave outcome and determine a course of action, the ultimate of which involves alerting humans onboard or nearby to flee before locating and autonomously driving itself to a safe space for ending its life. The patent filing includes notes that the doomed car would ideally try and get itself someplace away from structures and preferably near or in water. NIO even thought of what might happen if said destructive meltdown were to occur during charging (the car would spit out its charging plug and speed away, it seems) or when parked in an owner's attached garage (the outcome here is less clear, but we really hope it includes crashing through the closed garage door!) or if a limited-mobility occupant is in need of evacuation assistance (it'll alert nearby pedestrians via external cues to come help).

Of course, NIO's patent relies on the assumption that a lot of things that aren't yet a reality are a reality. Fully self-driving cars aren't commercially available yet, and the ones being tested have enough trouble navigating streets and such as it is. Now, imagine, that a self-driving car has to flee rapidly and find someplace to self-immolate without harming bystanders or property. Kind of sounds like the eventual fiery and/or explosive meltdown might be the least destructive aspect of the car's final moments, no? In any event, there is noble forward thinking going on here. NIO might be on to something with its alert setup for vehicle occupants and bystanders alike—after all, we certainly wouldn't mind being informed that a car we're in or near might soon dramatically go up in smoke. Until that becomes a real thing, we suggest you follow Smokey the Bear protocols for your current, less heroic car, and just run the hell away from it if things go South on you.