The era of self-driving cars is no longer a wacky prediction of decades past. Indeed, the age of the autonomous automobile is not far off; although still in its infancy, the technology is being tested by numerous companies and will roll out in the near future.
Generation Y will be responsible for 75% of vehicles purchased by 2025, and many millennials are especially eager to explore the new technology of self-driving cars. In addition to the intriguing technology they present, experts claim these self-driving cars will actually be safer for their riders than human drivers would be, but what about for pedestrians? These autonomous vehicles will have to make split-second decisions in terms of driving techniques and navigating road conditions — and those include keeping people safe, both in and outside the car.
An intriguing development by Swedish company Semcon AB will address the need for communication between self-driving cars and pedestrians on the streets. Without a human driver to communicate, pedestrians would lack the visual cue to signal their presence. Semcon AB is looking to address this concern by introducing technology that utilizes one of the most basic emotional cues: namely, the smile.
The idea behind the technology is that, when a self-driving car stops at a traffic light and “sees” a person at a crosswalk, the car can confirm the pedestrian’s existence with a lit-up smile on the front of the vehicle. This will signal to the pedestrian that the car notices him or her and will stop, letting them know they cross the street safely.
Eventually, the company hopes that the technology will be able to recognize head and eye movement in order to further distinguish whether the pedestrian is seeking reassurance. The addition of laser technology could also make the system operable in harsh weather, for nighttime driving, or in places where pedestrian crosswalks are lacking.
Although the concept of a smiling car might seem nonsensical to some, it could actually provide a shared language between the technology system and humans. There’s a real need for self-driving cars to communicate with the world in a way people recognize and that feels trustworthy. According to one survey, eight out of 10 pedestrians didn’t trust autonomous automobiles. This technology might be one way to bridge the gap and provide a means of familiar communication.
The concept of the Smiling Car is just the first step in the ongoing program conducted by Semcon AB and Viktoria Swedish ICT. The two organizations want to create a global-wide standard for how self-driving cars communicate and interact with their surroundings. With so many advancements being made, those formerly deemed ridiculous predictions for the future don’t seem so preposterous now. What kinds of new car-related technologies will come in the next few years? The excitement will keep us on the edge of our (leather-upholstered) seats.