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Undercover 'driverless' car tests light signals for pedestrians

A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researcher wears the "seat suit" used to research pedestrians' reactions to a self-driving vehicle. Photo: Kim Hart / Axios

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.