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Swedish Company Builds Autonomous Car That Smiles at You to Raise Pedestrian Trust

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Semcon AB smiling autonomous car

Photo: Semcon

One of the biggest worries when it comes to autonomous vehicles is pedestrians. They are the subject of much sensor data and hair-pulling, since there isn’t really a way to predict what a pedestrian will do when confronted with a self-driving car (like the lady who blocked a Google car while she chased a duck in circles on the street as she wielded a broom from the back of her motor scooter).

The problem goes the other way, as well. Since the car is controlled by computers and not people, nearby pedestrians wouldn’t be able to know exactly what the car will do, information that might have been given by a human driver with a little wave. This uncertainty has led one Swedish company, Semcon AB, to find, in a study, that 8 out of 10 pedestrians don’t trust autonomous vehicles.

One thing you could do, then, is have words scroll across a display, but that doesn’t work if the pedestrian speaks a different language or can’t read. So, how do you, without explicitly saying what the car will do, let pedestrians know that, for example, it’s safe to cross the street in front of the car?

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Semcon AB has found one solution: make a car that can smile at the pedestrians. Basically, this works by the car first coming to a stop sign or traffic light and detecting someone waiting to cross the street. As the car stops, a great big smile spreads across a display on its grille to let the pedestrian know that the car sees them and will stop at a safe distance, so it’s safe to cross the street.

This is only a concept, of course, and Semcon has added that this is only a first step in an ongoing program to create a global standard in self-driving car interactions. Future vehicles, the company hopes, will even be able to detect the pedestrian’s head and eye movement, to see if the person has noticed the vehicle, and is looking at it for assurance.

All in all, that seems pretty good for putting a simplified emoji on the front. I just wonder what will pop up if someone cuts the car off in traffic.

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News Source: Forbes, The Mercury News