The rush to autonomous motoring isn’t lacking in landmines for car companies, and the mingling of vehicles and pedestrians is certainly a ‘biggie’.
Swedish company Semcon AB however has developed an innovative way for pedestrians crossing a road to have some confidence the autonomous car approaching - with the driver not looking outside while attending to important matters on an iPad - has 'seen' them.
It has developed a front light system spanning the grille which switches to a smile when the vehicles’ various sensors and radars have detected the presence of 'foot traffic', has applied the brakes and calculated the vehicle will stop before the crossing.
Semcon says its research confirms 80 percent of pedestrians seek to make eye contact with the drivers of approaching vehicles before embarking on crossing the road. So, a smile on the grille will come as good news to most.
In fact the smiling car concept is the first of many we will see emerge thanks to the research institute Viktoria Swedish ICT which is developing a global standard for all sorts of autonomous car communications.
Explaining the smiling car concept, Semcon’s Karin Eklund hit the nail on the head when she said: “The strength behind the Smiling Car is that we allow people to communicate in the way they are used to, instead of taking an unnecessary detour via technology.”
In other words: the ‘boffins’ would likely suggest the best communication method might be for the vehicle to send a text to the pedestrian’s mobile phone or snapchat a photo of its own brake lights illuminating whereas in fact the simple smiling car is actually a universal, global-wide communication which everyone could quickly understand.
Recognising that many autonomous vehicles will also be running silently on electric motors, Semcon is also suggesting the smile should be accompanied by an audio signal.
In the future, Semcon says advances in laser technology will be the key. We can look forward to vehicles which can detect a pedestrian even gazing towards them before setting foot on the crossing and also for detection methods which work in poor light and weather conditions.