Hand gestures, head nods and thumbs-up signals all help to ensure drivers, pedestrians and cyclists know what each other is doing. But how will self‑driving vehicles, with no human driver, communicate with those around them? Ford has been testing one approach that uses lights to indicate what the vehicle is doing and what it will do next as part of research into a communication interface that will help autonomous vehicles seamlessly integrate with other road users.
To ensure testing was as realistic and natural as possible, the company created the ‘Human Car Seat’ installed inside a Transit Connect van. Sounding ust like the famous YouTube video where a person hides inside a replica car seat and drives into a McDonalds drive through, Ford has made the van look like an autonomous vehicle with the driver hidden in the seat. The company believes that observers will more effectively gauge responses to a roof-mounted light bar that flashed white, purple and turquoise to indicate when the van was driving, about to pull forwards and giving way.
The latest testing, which complements research already carried out in the U.S., was conducted together with Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. Researchers expanded the tests to check the effectiveness of two other colours, in addition to white; a rooftop location, when the U.S tests had the lights placed on the top part of the windshield; and situations with further distance, showing the lights up to 500 metres away.
The tests concluded that 60 per cent of 173 people surveyed after encountering the Transit Connect thought it was an autonomous vehicle. Together with the observed reactions of a further 1,600 people, turquoise – more noticeable than white and less easily confused with red than purple – was the preferred colour. There was also a high level of acceptance and trust in the signals, providing a basis from which researchers can further develop the visual language
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