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Will Autonomous Vehicles Ever be Able to Communicate with Pedestrians?

February 7, 2019

Currently being developed, autonomous vehicles are rapidly moving forward to enhance safety, efficiency and sustainability of road traffic but how can autonomous vehicles and pedestrians safely coexist? The aspect of how pedestrians will experience autonomous vehicle is a largely unexplored area and one that is particularly worrisome, especially when it comes to autonomous vehicles operating around pedestrians at night.

Freeing us of our responsibility to drive safely behind the wheel, autonomous vehicles have several senses that they use in order to navigate their way around the streets but perhaps its only when they can detect every object within their surroundings that they will ever be able to operate safely amongst pedestrians.

Companies such as Ford are now beginning to test whether or not coloured lights, displayed above the windscreen of an autonomous car, may be the answer for rising pedestrian security as it aims to create a communication system between autonomous vehicles and pedestrians. Ford’s light-base visual language system intends to use a ray of lights to signal the vehicle’s intentions. With tests having already been conducted on public roads, Ford has been doing this using a driver who was disguised as a “human car seat”, which it installed inside a Transit Connect van, in an attempt to make the vehicle appear autonomous.

Ford’s engineers have also been experimenting with different colours and patterns in an attempt to see which mixture produced the most safest pedestrian response. You may be surprised to know that it was the colour turquoise that was discovered to be the most beneficial colour. However, further tests which have been conducted show that there has been no change in pedestrian trust levels. So how will self-driving vehicles, with no human driver actually communicate with those around them?

It’s without a doubt that we will eventually reach a state where all vehicles on the road are autonomous, but this is a long process and will take place gradually. Until there is a pedestrian detection system in place, it’s unlikely that this will be anytime soon as there are several unanswered questions in terms of autonomous vehicles and pedestrian safety.

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