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Test vehicle with light bar communication system. Photo: Ford Motor Company

To peacefully share the road with human drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, self-driving cars will need a shared, easy-to-understand visual language to communicate their intent.

The big picture: There is currently no industry standard governing this communication. Automakers and tech companies must come together to create one, since a variety of conflicting light and color signals could cause widespread confusion and distrust.

Where it stands: There are a number of possible approaches to such a standardized communication system, from flashing lights that indicate acceleration to a solid white light that shows active driving.

  • Ford has tested an initial design — a white light bar across the top of the windshield that projects three different signals of intention — in both virtual reality and the real world with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
  • Any method used should be as simple as a brake light or turn signal flash, which can be understood easily around the world. Text messages, for example, are a poor choice because of language barriers.
  • Regulators may also play a part, as federal requirements would preclude light colors other than amber or white on the front of the vehicle, a standard aligned with international conventions. (Ford's light bar meets the current guidelines.)

What's needed: As multiple solutions for vehicle intent signals are being pursued, now is the time to develop an industry standard in parallel with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International.

John Shutko is a human factors technical specialist at Ford Motor Company.

Go deeper: Ford's call for an industry standard

Go deeper

By the numbers: Census to show first decline of white population

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Census Bureau via Brookings Institute; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The latest census is expected to show the first decline in history for the nation's non-Hispanic white population, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Brookings Institution's William Frey.

Why it matters: The U.S. is rapidly moving toward a majority-minority population — with the racial and ethnic diversity most apparent in younger cohorts. "This really is moving in a direction that’s going to favor the issues and the political agendas of these younger people," Frey told Axios.

Democrats plot filibuster workarounds

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Several Democratic lawmakers are moving away from calls to eliminate the filibuster while privately discussing alternatives to bypass it, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: These talks have ramped up in earnest following the Republicans’ move Tuesday to block a measure to protect and expand voting rights.

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Infrastructure's remaining potholes

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

President Biden declared victory in announcing the bipartisan infrastructure package. Now comes the hard part: negotiating with his own party on the separate reconciliation bill.

Why it matters: By trying to simultaneously pass two massive spending bills, Biden and congressional leaders are attempting a legislative feat that will likely require Congress to work through its August recess — and potentially well into the fall, according to lawmakers and senior staffers.