Jaguar Land Rover has created self-driving cars with eyes that are used to communicate with pedestrians when it’s safe to cross in front of them.
Currently being tested in Coventry, England, the prototype autonomous vehicles sport two eyes in front, giving them a friendly face.
Much like human drivers, the cars make eye contact with nearby pedestrians to acknowledge that they’ve seen them and are stopping to let them cross the road safely.
The cars, or “eye pods”, are part of a suite of tests being conducted by Jaguar Land Rover’s Future Mobility division, which is exploring how humans can be encouraged to trust self-driving cars.
For ideas, they’re looking to how drivers, pedestrians and other road users already communicate.
“It’s second-nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road,” said Pete Bennett, research manager at Jaguar Land Rover’s Future Mobility division. “Understanding how this translates in tomorrow’s more automated world is important.”
“We want to know if it is beneficial to provide humans with information about a vehicle’s intentions or whether simply letting a pedestrian know it has been recognised is enough to improve confidence,” Bennett continued.
Statistics from the American Automobile Association show two-thirds of people say they’d feel less safe sharing the road with a driverless vehicle while walking or cycling. The figures have appeared to worsen following recent fatal crashes.
The psychological barriers to realising autonomous driving technology are now often regarded as greater than the legal barriers — a point that BMW board director Peter Schwarzenbauer discussed with Dezeen in an interview last year.
Jaguar Land Rover is working with psychologists on these trials, as it attempts to understand how vehicle behaviour can improve human confidence in the new technology. Autonomous vehicles are expected to reduce the number of road accidents.
The trials are part of the UK government-backed Autodrive project, which unites businesses, local authorities and academic institutions attempting to bring autonomous technology to the country.
The pods are made by local manufacturer Aurrigo and are being tested in a mock street scene.
They appear to look directly at nearby pedestrians to signal it is safe to cross, and engineers are recording the subjects’ trust levels before and after to gauge how much confidence they have in the vehicle stopping. More than 500 test subjects have been studied so far.
Jaguar Land Rover is a UK-based Tata Motors-owned automotive manufacturer, with both the rugged Land Rover and luxury Jaguar brands under its belt.
As well as its interest in developing driverless technology, the automaker has committed to introducing electrified versions of all its vehicles by 2020, although it will continue to make pure petrol and diesel engines as well.