The internet freaked out last month when a "driverless" van was spotted roaming the streets of Arlington, Va. It turned out to be driven by a human wearing a "seat suit" as part of a study about how people interact with self-driving cars.
Now we know why: Ford was testing light signals to communicate with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other human drivers. It's part of the automaker's effort to create a standard visual language so autonomous vehicles can communicate their intentions to other road users.
For example: Today, drivers may signal their intentions to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers with a hand wave, head nod or other visual cue to show their next move or to acknowledge it's OK to proceed through an intersection.
Why it matters: Replacing those visual cues will be essential for people to adjust to a driverless world, said John Shutko, Ford's human factors technical specialist. Fully autonomous cars are expected to dramatically increase driving safety when they eventually hit the roads, but it could cause new hazards for other road users. And to be successful, people have to actually want them on the roads.
- "We are now considering how society in general is going to interact with these vehicles," Shutko said. "I think it will help with overall acceptance of them."
What's next: The study's results will be released later this fall. Ford and VTTI decided to explain the research after last month's media attention so that people wouldn't think the research project was "just a prank."
Axios' Kim Hart has more details here.