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Instead of gestures: Ford communicates driverless cars with light signals

Thursday, September 14th, 2017 | Gadgets

The US car manufacturer Ford is proposing uniform light signals throughout the industry, with the help of which future drivers will communicate with other road users. To this end, the company started a research project with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to test the interaction of pedestrians or cyclists by car at crossroads or zebras. The special thing about this is that the test cars did not run autonomously, but had a driver who was practically invisible as a car seat.

"We have to master the challenges when there are no human drivers left," said Ford developer John Shutko. For a safe and effective operation of self-propelled cars in the public, it is fundamental to develop a way to replace a nod or a hand sign.
Texts and symbols excluded
Reflections on how to do this with the aid of displayed text or symbols have been rejected. For texts would not be understood by all people in all languages, while symbols would be badly recognized by the other road users.
The researchers therefore opted for light signals as the most effective way to create a visual communication protocol for driverless cars. In the case of indicators or brake lights, these are, after all, unified and easily understandable.
Curious test drives
Ford therefore equipped a Transit Connect with a light indicator in the front window. If two white light beams move back and forth, the car leaves the driveway or lets a pedestrian pass the zebras tire. White steady light in the middle indicates the autonomous mode. Fast flashing white light means that the vehicle wants to start again.

The test drives last August had attracted worldwide attention, because many passersby could not explain whether the cars were actually autonomous and why the drivers had dressed as carsitz. The researchers completed nearly 3,000 test kilometers and collected 150 hours of data. The external signals have been activated more than 1,650 times, for example at intersections, parking lots, garages and airports.
Mercedes with similar concept
Ford has already worked with various industrial organizations to create a common standard. This could help to integrate self-propelled vehicles into the transport system. In addition, Ford is already working on procedures so that the cars can communicate with blind or visually impaired people.
It is difficult to assess whether this standard will be implemented – as suggested by Ford. However, Daimler has already developed a similar light communication for its concept study F 015. Laser projectors are used to throw information onto the street in order to communicate with other vehicles and pedestrians. LEDs on the outside inform about, for example, autonomous or manual operation of the car as well as pedestrian detection.


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