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Ford Proposes Driverless Vehicle Signals for Pedestrian Safety

Ford Proposes Driverless Vehicle Signals for Pedestrian Safety

Author: Michael Cheng   

For effective maneuvering around busy cities, autonomous cars must carefully pay attention to the movements of the vehicle and pedestrians in the surrounding environment. Ensuring the safety of people can be achieved using different types of devices and sensors. However, such methods are mainly applicable to defensive or passive driving.

To improve operations and safety around pedestrians, Ford is pushing for a unique standard that utilizes intent signals.  This precaution enables autonomous cars to communicate with people on the street, advising individuals about the potential acceleration and shifts in driving mode of the vehicle.

Displaying Intent Signals

The proposed system uses a sleek light bar, secured above the autonomous vehicle. When a signal is displayed, the lights blink based on the intentions of the unit. For instance, when a driverless car is at an intersection, it may display blinking lights to advise pedestrians that it is preparing to accelerate or move forward.

When a car is decelerating to a full stop, two lights running side to side is displayed above the windshield. In normal (active) driving mode, the light bar emits a non-blinking light. All lighting signals are white.

"We want everyone to trust self-driving vehicles — no matter if they are riders in these vehicles themselves or pedestrians, cyclists, scooter users or other drivers sharing the road," said John Shutko, Human Factors Technical Specialist for Self-driving Vehicles at Ford, in a blog post.

"Having one, universal communication interface people across geographies and age groups can understand is critical for the successful deployment of self-driving technology."

At the moment, Ford is trialing the signaling method on a self-driving fleet in the US. The fleet is managed by Argo AI, a startup backed by the automaker. Interestingly, the program is testing driverless car applications for last-mile delivery services. Global pizza brand Domino's is also a participant in the trial.   

Universal Communication Standard

Ford spent a lot of time and effort to ensure the signals are suitable for pedestrians. Along with a group of scientists, the company first deployed the system using virtual reality. One of the biggest challenges of the system involved learning what the signals meant. According to Ford, people can discern the meaning of a lighting signal after seeing it two times. For all three signals, individuals needed to see the lights in action roughly five to 10 times.

"Having one, universal communication interface people across geographies and age groups can understand is critical for the successful deployment of self-driving technology," explained Shutko.

"It's critical that the communications method we agree upon is as readily understandable as a brake light or turn signal indicator."

Ford is collaborating with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) on formulating the safety standards. With the two leading organizations, the Detroit-based automaker is seeking the standard implementation of light color, design and signaling equipment. To streamline development and application, the business encourages other companies in the automotive industry to support the interface, as it could drastically improve safety for self-driving cars.

Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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