Developing autonomous vehicles that are capable of navigating dynamic roadways without incident is one thing. But devising systems that can handle the nuances of interactions on the road – and gain the trust of the public – is quite another.
That’s the realisation that several manufacturers in the driverless car space are coming to. For example, earlier this month Ford released a safety report titled ‘A Matter of Trust‘, and announced that it had developed a system of lights to enable autonomous cars to communicate their intentions to human beings on the road.
In the same week, the 2018 Cox Automotive Evolution of Mobility Study found that, despite advances in computer vision technology and millions of test miles completed by the likes of Waymo, Uber, GM, Apple, Tesla, and Ford, self-driving vehicles are now perceived as being less safe than they were in 2016.
It would appear that there is a growing disconnect between reality and public opinion – no doubt as a result of high-profile fatalities involving autonomous vehicles operated by Uber and Tesla earlier this year.
So what’s the solution?
Making eye contact with pedestrians
This week another manufacturer with autonomous ambitions, Jaguar Land Rover, released details of how it plans to tackle the trust problem. As Ford also acknowledged in its safety report, a key factor in easing public doubts is making autonomous vehicles as predictable as possible, and enabling them to communicate intuitively with human road users.
Jaguar Land Rover has been working with a team of cognitive psychologists to work out how vehicle behaviour affects pedestrian confidence. One of the ways that trust can be increased, it seems, is to make vehicles appear and act more human.
As part of Jaguar Land Rover’s government-supported UK Autodrive project, the company is trialling ‘intelligent pods’, armed with giant front-facing eyes that ‘look’ at pedestrians and signal that they have been identified.
Improving public confidence in autonomous systems
A survey carried out by the American Automobile Association (AAA) earlier this year found that 63 percent of adults are concerned that autonomous vehicles won’t see them. Jaguar Land Rover engineers are experimenting with this new type of eye contact to see how that level of confidence changes.
Pete Bennett, Future Mobility research manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said that the tests – taking place on a fabricated street scene in Coventry, England – are an attempt to inform the company’s future developments.
It’s second-nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road,” he said.
“Understanding how this translates in tomorrow’s more automated world is important. We want to know if it is beneficial to provide humans with information about a vehicle’s intentions, or whether simply letting a pedestrian know it has been recognised is enough to improve confidence.”
Internet of Business says
While identifying human beings crossing the road – along with stationary vehicles and obstructions – is an essential capability for driverless vehicles, and while drivers are likely to treat autonomous cars just like any other vehicles on the road, the consumer confidence angle has long been overlooked.
For a pedestrian to cross in front of a driverless car when there is no driver to make eye contact with involves taking a big leap of faith, especially in the wake of the Uber crash, in which a pedestrian was struck and killed by an autonomous test vehicle.
Working on communications systems that help integrate autonomous technologies into society is a critical step in their development, because machines have to fit into the human world – not the other way around.
But whether giving vehicles faces, in effect, is a sensible idea in the long run remains to be seen. Do parents want young children to regard speeding cars as their friends?