Ford is working on new ways for cars to visually communicate with pedestrians.
In normal driving, hand gestures, head nods and even thumbs-up signals can be used for drivers, pedestrians and even cyclists to know what the other driver is doing.
However, in planning for a future when some cars may drive themselves, Ford decided some new modes of communications would be in order.
To start testing, Ford installed special lighting on vehicles to see how pedestrians would react.
The automaker had previously worked with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to create a seat suit that concealed an actual driver, so the car appeared to be self-driving.
The automaker more recently has been testing the hidden-driver vehicle together with Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany, as detailed in a company video.
“Fundamentally, people need to trust autonomous vehicles and developing one universal visual means of communication is a key to that,” stated Thorsten Warwel, manager, core lighting, Ford of Europe. “Turning someone into a ‘human car seat’ was one of those ideas when there was a bit of a pause and then a realization that this was the best and most effective way of finding out what we needed to know.”
Researchers found that 60% of 173 people surveyed believed the vehicle was autonomous.
In the European test, researchers checked the effectiveness of two colors in addition to white on a rooftop location. With observed reactions of 1,600 people, they concluded that turquoise was the color most preferred, also providing a high level of acceptance and trust in the signals.
In additional tests conducted by Ford and the automotive lighting and electronics specialist Hella, lights were placed in different locations such as on the grill and headlamps, determining that there was no clear preference.
Ford’s stated goal is to develop a purpose-built, self-driving vehicle for deployment in North America in 2021.
Meanwhile, it’s working to find the best ways for these vehicles to communicate with those around them, at least for now, through lights.