Learning about people skills for self-driving cars

A simple head nod or hand wave from a driver is usually enough to indicate it’s OK for a pedestrian to cross the street. But how will a self-driving car, with no human aboard, communicate with walkers, cyclists or people operating other cars on the road?

+Ford Motor Company partnered with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to investigate the most effective means – and to gauge people’s reactions to potential solutions. This meant concealing a driver, behind a fake seat, in a car that otherwise appeared to be an autonomous vehicle with no occupants.

John Shutko: Ford human factors technical specialist
Understanding how self-driving vehicles impact the world as we know it today is critical to ensuring we’re creating the right experience for tomorrow.

As light signals are already the standard means of indicating and braking, these were determined to be the most effective means for a self-driving vehicle to signal to its intentions. We equipped a test vehicle with a light bar on the windshield – with different states to show when the vehicle was driving autonomously, about to stop and to move off –while six high-definition cameras offered a 360-degree view of surrounding areas to capture the behavior of other road users.

More than 150 hours of data over approximately 1,800 miles of driving was collected, including encounters with pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers. Now researchers will use this data to understand how other road users respond to the signals.

Andy Schaudt, project director, Center for Automated Vehicle Systems, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
This work is of value not only to vehicle users and manufacturers, but to anyone who walks, rides or drives alongside an autonomous vehicle in the future. We are proud to support Ford in developing this very important research.

We are already working with several industry organisations to push towards the creation of a common visual communications interface that most people can understand across all self-driving vehicles; and are initiating research into a potential solution for a communications protocol with those who are blind or visually impaired.

John Shutko: Ford human factors technical specialist
Preparing for a self-driving future is going to take all of us working together. That’s why we’re developing and advocating for a standard solution so it can be adopted by the industry and applied to all self-driving vehicles.” 

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