Ford reveals its role in wacky self-driving stunt involving car-seat man



Some of you may recall an odd story from last month where a man was spotted driving around the streets of Arlington, Virginia, dressed as a car seat.

Youre right, thats not a normal thing to do, and it confused the hell out of people that saw the car drive by. While some passed it off as a trial run for a self-driving car, Arlingtons more eagle-eyed observers noticed limbs protruding from the seat, a sight that prompted one man to knock on the window and ask, Who are you? What are you doing?

The man dressed as a car seat declined to answer, and simply drove off. A few days later, we learned that the stunt was a data-gathering exercise by researchers atVirginia Tech Transportation Institute eager to learn more about peoples reactions todriverless vehicles. It turns out Ford was involved, too.

The American car giant on Wednesday posted a video showing more footage of its driverless vehicle, which also shows the human driver in his car-seat garb.

Offering some more details about the experiment, John Shutko, one of Fords self-driving specialists, explained in a blog post that while its keen to learn more about human responses to self-driving cars, it also want to look at how such vehicles might be able to communicate its intentions to pedestrians and cyslists, thereby providing reassurance.

Ford and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute are testing a Ford-designed method for self-driving vehicles to communicate their intent to pedestrians, human drivers and bicyclists in an effort to create a standard visual language people can easily understand. Here, the two white lights on top of the windshield of the Ford Transit Connect move side to side, indicating vehicle is about to yield to a full stop.Expand / Collapse

Shutko points out how anyone who has crossed a busy street likely knows the informal language between pedestrians and drivers. A driver might wave her hand to indicate to the pedestrian its okay to cross, or a pedestrian could throw up his hand like a stop sign to signal he plans to cross first.

He points out that when autonomous cars become commonplace, such behavior will disappear. With that in mind, Ford is working on developing a standard way for driverless vehicles to communicate their intention nearby pedestrians and cyclists.

Shutko said that its unique seat suit enabled it to collect real-world reactions to an autonomous vehicle driving on miles of public roads in northern Virginia, without actually using an autonomous vehicle.

Flashing light bar

The car used a flashing light bar at the top of the windshield. 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, Fords driverless-car expert said, adding that theyre currently researching solutions for the blind and visually impaired.

Of course, at the current time, few people will have any idea what the various light signals mean, but Ford hopes that over time theyll become common knowledge for road users around the world.

Our light signals still need to undergo a significant amount of research, but we believe an aligned industry and development of a global standard is critical to support eventual deployment of self-driving vehicles, Shutko said.

Ford recently doubled its Silicon Valley team to further its autonomous-vehicle research, and also working more closely with at least four startups to develop related technology. Its also aiming to launch a fully autonomous vehicle for ride-sharing in 2021.