Smiling Self-Driving Car is for Pedestrian Safety

A Swedish engineering firm has developed an autonomous car that beams a big smile on the grille to let pedestrians know it is safe to cross the street.

Semcon produced the concept in response to concerns that self-driving cars won’t be able to communicate with other road users, including pedestrians, in the way human drivers can.

A rear screen also lets the vehicle behind the concept know the reason it has stopped.

In an international survey conducted by Semcon and research company Inizio, eight out of 10 pedestrians stated they look for eye contact with drivers when preparing to cross the street.

The emergence of self-driving cars could well take away the eye contact in the future.

“When that opportunity is lost, there is a real need to develop some type of communication between the cars and the public for them to feel safe,” user experience designer Karin Ecklund said.

In the same survey, Semco found that less than half of the pedestrians do not trust that autonomous cars in front of them would actually stop.

In the U.S., only 15 percent of the respondents had confidence that the self-driving car would stop.

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The Smiling Car designers made a video of a car rigged up to appear self driving to record pedestrian reactions — many appeared either startled or angry.

Semcon said that eye tracking and laser technology could improve the car’s response by detecting small head and eye movements to better understand where a pedestrian is heading.

Together with research institute Viktoria Swedish ICT and auto industry partners, Semcon wants to establish a global standard for vehicle to human communication.

“Just as there are clear rules on how cars signal when changing lanes, we now need to develop a common language for how self-driving cars will interact with humans,” said Markus Granlund, Semcon’s president and CEO.

Semcon’s car with a smile isn’t the first to demonstrate a self-driving car communication system.

Last month, startup Drive.ai showed its roof-mounted emoji display to communicate with pedestrians.

Autocar