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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on September 14th, 2017 | by James Ayre


Ford Exploring Light Signaling For Self-Driving-Vehicle-To-Pedestrian Communication

September 14th, 2017 by  

One of the points made by those skeptical of self-driving vehicles is that since such systems aren’t human, they may make assumptions and follow through with actions at the expense of individual humans. In other words, what makes the most sense to a self-driving car may lead to people being injured unnecessarily.

While it’s presumably the case that systems can be designed so as to be extremely cautious, there’s still probably at least a bit of truth to the criticism discussed above. After all, how can a person even tell what a self-driving car is “thinking” — and, thus, how can behavior be anticipated, as is possible to some extent with human drivers (through eye contact, observation of what the driver is looking at, etc.).

With that in mind, Ford Motor Company is now working with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to explore new ways for self-driving cars to “communicate” what they are doing to pedestrians and cyclists — possibly through the use of simple and standardized light-signaling systems.

Reuters provides more: “The new communications method, which uses simple light signals to depict whether a self-driving vehicle is slowing or accelerating, has the potential to become a universal industry standard in all countries, Ford and institute researchers said.

“The automaker set out to find ‘a way to replace the head nod or hand wave’ to convey to pedestrians the intent of a driverless vehicle, according to John Shutko, Ford’s human factors technical specialist. Researchers rejected the use of displayed text because of potential language barriers, and symbols because of their low recognition.

“Instead, they settled on visual signals from a light bar placed on the windshield of a Ford Transit Van. A solid white light shows the vehicle is in full autonomous mode, a blinking white light indicates acceleration, and a pair of white lights moving side to side signals slowing and stopping.”

Real-world testing of the tech involved the use of a retrofitted Ford Transit Van — which apparently logged some 1,800 miles (~2,900 kilometers) of travel last month. Most of this testing took place in the proximity of Arlington, Virginia.

Those involved in the testing apparently video recorded pedestrian and cyclist reactions, with the intent being to use this video to finetune the system.

Reuters notes: “The van was piloted by a human driver, who wore a camouflaged ‘seat suit’ to simulate a driverless vehicle. The vehicles drew some attention on social and local news media reports.”

A bit of a strange approach…

As a reminder here, Ford is currently aiming to bring self-driving shuttles to the commercial market by the year 2021 — only around 4 years from now.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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