To foster trust in self-driving vehicles, Ford is pushing for a new industry standard for autonomous vehicles to communicate their intent with pedestrians, cyclists, and people on scooters.
The automaker has already created what it’s calling a “self-driving intent interface” – a light bar mounted to the top of the windshield that signals to other road users when an autonomous vehicle is in active driving mode, about to yield, or start accelerating from a stop.
Pedestrians and other road users will see a solid white light when the vehicle is in active driving mode. Two white lights moving from side to side means the vehicle is about to come to a full stop, while a rapidly blinking white light indicates it’s about to accelerate from a stop.
Ford last year worked with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to study this interface and found it “did not encourage any unsafe behavior by other road users,” Ford’s Human Factors Technical Specialist for self-driving vehicles John Shutko wrote in a blog post.
In further studies, Ford used virtual reality to place human participants on a digital street corner to gauge their reaction to these signals. The company found that people were able to learn what a single signal meant after seeing it just twice. It took between five and 10 exposures to learn the meaning of all three lighting patterns.
“What’s most encouraging is that the signals had a positive effect on people’s trust in self-driving vehicles, with participants reporting the light signals increased their understanding of what a self-driving vehicle will do,” Shutko wrote.
Ford is now installing the intent interface on a “small fleet” of Fusion Hybrid self-driving development vehicles to be used by Argo AI in Miami as part of a real-world test to expose people to the lightbar and observe their reactions. Ford is conducting similar research in Europe.
The company is also working with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to create a unified communication interface for self-driving vehicles and is encouraging other automakers and technology companies to collaborate on the effort. The company hopes to reach an agreement on the placement, design, and color of the signals.
“Having one, universal communication interface people across geographies and age groups can understand is critical for the successful deployment of self-driving technology,” Shutko wrote. “It’s critical that the communications method we agree upon is as readily understandable as a brake light or turn signal indicator.”