One of the biggest questions facing companies developing self-driving cars is what to do about living drivers who don’t obey the rules. How does a car, pre-programmed to follow all the rules, negotiate with a driver who is breaking them? Ford is working around such problems by adding signals and communications to its vehicles to negotiate such encounters. The Washington Post reports:
Andy Schaudt is an invisible man.
He is wearing a “seat suit” to make it look like his Ford Transit Connect van is driving itself.
His bespectacled face is obscured by a fake headrest hood. His torso is tucked behind custom-sewn upholstery armor, like the pads protecting a Yankees catcher but in meticulously chosen black and stone leather hues to mirror Ford Motor’s usually inanimate seats.
The automaker is trying to devise a “standard visual language” so its self-driving cars can communicate with humans. The company is testing a bar of flashing white lights on the windshield meant to replace the little nods and go-ahead half-waves that keep people from getting into crashes.
And that means some deception in the service of progress.
Ford tapped a half-dozen Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researchers, Schaudt among them, to spend August tooling around Arlington pretending not to be there. They drove more than 1,800 miles and collected 150 hours of 360-degree video from six cameras mounted on their gray van.
It’s satisfying work, but it can be uncomfortable at times, jolting usual conventions in the way strangers interact.
One of Schaudt’s colleagues apparently didn’t get going quickly enough when a light turned green, prompting another motorist to speed around to the right and begin to yell. Then he saw nobody there “and said it out loud — there’s nobody driving this car,” Schaudt said.
Aggressive drivers want to employ “communication methods that aren’t exactly required for navigation,” Schaudt noted. So when they conclude there’s nobody there to scream at, “it’s a jaw dropping moment.”
Read more here.