Ford (F) was behind the car seat self-driving stunt in Arlington, Virginia in early August, confirms the automaker. Videos of a vehicle being driven by a man dressed up as a front seat of a car emerged in August and were taken by an NBC affiliate.
The man clearly operated the vehicle, as his hands were visible.
Reporters approached the Ford Transit van, asking the man questions with no response. One reporter was heard saying, “I’m with the news dude.” The video went viral with viewers questioning who was behind the stunt.
Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute was the first to come out and confirm that the stunt was actually a “test.” Ford has since come out and stated that they were behind the stunt and worked alongside Virginia Tech.
The automaker posted a blog post on their Self-Driven blog, which details the reasoning for the test. The company notes working with Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute to learn how pedestrians will react when they see self-driving vehicles.
The test also includes a light bar found on the windshield of the vehicle. The bar is being used to communicate with the people around the vehicle. Lights are used as signals to display an autonomous vehicle’s intentions with pedestrians.
Quick blinks are a sign that the vehicle will quickly accelerate from a stopped position. Slower blinking lights are an indication that the vehicle will slow down for other traffic. A white light will remain solid when the vehicle is operated autonomously.
Ford’s light animations are flawed, as no one knows how to interpret the signals just yet. The carmaker says that they will figure out a way to allow pedestrians to know the intention of their automobiles.
Ford plans to have fully self-driving vehicles on the road by 2021, and to have complete autonomy, taking the human element completely out of the equation.
Fully automated vehicles will reduce congestion and help reduce accidents. Child safety will also increase. In 2015, 663 children were killed in automobile accidents. Ford aims to make roads safer with their fully automated line of automobiles.
The stunt, using a man dressed up as a car seat, was important because Ford still needs someone behind the wheel during their real-world testing. Ford’s experiment was less about self-driving technology and more about the signals on their light bar.
Ford and Virginia Tech found that while some of the light’s signals were able to be interpreted, people need further exposure to learn what the signals need. The company believes that continued exposure will lead to wide adoption of what the signals mean.
Ford and Virginia Tech have worked tightly together, with 150 hours of testing over nearly 1,800 miles, according to the company. The company’s tests focused primarily on other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
The pair plans to work together to set industry standards to ensure all automated vehicles have a similar system in place that pedestrians can learn. The two are working with SAE International and the International Organization for Standardization to bring their blinking light technology to the mainstream.