Yes, you read that correctly: Ford put a man in a auto seat disguise so that a Ford Transit could masquerade as a true self-driving vehicle. Why? Hide the driver inside a seat, for one, which is exactly what Ford Motor Co. did in a recent series of experiments.
It had someone in the driving seat wearing a vehicle seat costume to fool pedestrians and other drivers, and research how people react to driverless cars.
The trial, conducted with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, also made use of a light bar mounted on the top of the windshield to provide communication about what the vehicle was doing, including yielding, driving autonomously or accelerating from a full stop.
"The signal slowly pulses a white light back and forth if it is yielding, blinks rapidly if it is about to accelerate from a stop, or remains completely solid if it is in active self-driving mode, meaning it is simply driving along the road like any other vehicle", Shutko wrote.
Much like the company's partnership developing an autonomous delivery vehicle with Domino's Pizza Inc., Ford engineers want to see how people interact with a vehicle they believe to be truly driverless - even if they aren't. Mainly because you actually still do need to have someone behind the wheel in real-world testing, and also because for the purposes of this experiment, Ford and VTTI didn't actually need a self-driving auto - they just needed people to believe wholeheartedly they were using one.
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The automaker set out to find "a way to replace the head nod or hand wave" to convey to pedestrians the intent of a driverless vehicle, according to John Shutko, Ford's human factors technical specialist.
Shutko wrote that the seat suit not only allowed Ford and the team at Virginia Tech to collect real-world reactions to the seemingly autonomous van but it also allowed Ford to test a bar of white lights positioned at the top of the windshield.
The test will implement simple light signals, because "light signals for turning and braking indication are already standardized and widely understood", Ford said.
The company collected data from cameras mounted on the outside of the study vehicle.
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