Jaguar Land Rover wants pedestrians to feel safer about its self-driving vehicles, and it’s hoping a pair of “virtual eyes” will do the trick.
The idea is that you would, and it’s the latest attempt to replicate the human interaction that can occur between a driver and a person crossing the road. Ford, for instance, is working on a self-driving “language” that uses various patterns on a windshield-mounted light bar to communicate what the car is doing. Drive.AI is developing a less subtle method with digital images and captions on the side of its shuttles that explain what the car is doing, such as, “Waiting for you to cross.”
But a staring contest with a driverless vehicle? Jaguar calls them “friendly-faced ‘eye pods'” — a generous description, to be sure — and they’re not out in the wild, yet.
The Aurrigo shuttles are currently being tested at a facility in Coventry, England, near Jaguar headquarters through a trial with the UK Autodrive project. So far, the pods have driven on a fake street scene with more than 500 test pedestrians who have bravely stared them down, according to a press release from Jaguar Land Rover UK.
However off-putting it might be, this development in car-eyeball tech coincides with the public’s growing distrust of autonomous vehicles. A recent Cox Automotive study found that only 28 percent of American adult respondents think that fully self-driving vehicles are safe, down from nearly 50 percent two years ago. This matches with findings from the American Automobile Association that 63 percent of U.S. adults say they would feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle while walking or on a bicycle.
The “virtual eyes” are a potential solution for this erosion of trust, and engineers on the Jaguar Land Rover future mobility team programmed the pods to seek out humans so that they can further study trust levels before and after making so-called eye contact. When the shuttle registers that you are there, it looks at you, and that’s your signal to safely cross.
At this point this is more of a psychological test, what Jaguar Land Rover calls “trust research.” In nearby Milton Keynes, the same self-driving shuttles are on the road and out of the test facility — however, sans eyes. There’s no word yet on if or when Jaguar Land Rover’s eyes will roll out on public streets.
By Sasha Lekach