Ford hides driver in car seat to test driverless signals
Test vehicle used for development of signalling systems for autonomous cars
Ford has been revealed as the company that was testing a ‘driverless' car, where the driver was actually concealed in the seat.
The car, a Ford Transit Connect, had been seen around Virginia in the US, and attracted attention after passers-by realised that the vehicle was actually being operated by a man disguised as the car seat.
The unusual vehicle was quickly identified as part of a project by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, although the vehicle company was still unknown.
Ford have now confessed that it was their test rig, which was running a project into how autonomous vehicles can communicate with other road users and pedestrians. The test car is equipped with a lighting system, designed by Ford, which will be used by self-driving vehicles to signal their intent.
In many countries, it is common practice for drivers to use small lights on the side, front and rear of the car, often called ‘indicators', to show other drivers when they intend to turn, change lanes and so on, although such systems are rarely used in the Middle East. The test technology aims to replicate these and other signals between drivers.
Ford said that developing a way for self-driving vehicles to communicate their intent is essential since cues like hand waves or head nods between human drivers and pedestrians will not necessarily factor in to autonomous driving scenarios.
"Understanding how self-driving vehicles impact the world as we know it today is critical to ensuring we're creating the right experience for tomorrow," said John Shutko, Ford's human factors technical specialist. "We need to solve for the challenges presented by not having a human driver, so designing a way to replace the head nod or hand wave is fundamental to ensuring safe and efficient operation of self-driving vehicles in our communities."