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Ford, Virginia Tech use van with driver in 'seat suit' to test autonomous signals

Sitting in the driver's seat, you might wave a few fingers repeatedly — as in, "go ahead" — to let a pedestrian or cyclist know it's okay to cross in front of your car. But what if there's no driver and it's a self-driving car or truck?

With all the efforts to engineer and test autonomous vehicles, that's a point that doesn't come up often. Drivers today might use things like head nods or hand waves to communicate with walkers, cyclists, motorcyclists and drivers in other vehicles near them. It's usually to establish an order of operations, such as whether you're moving or letting someone else move first.

Ford and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute are exploring how a self-driving vehicle will give those kinds of signals, absent a body behind the wheel to do so.

Click through the slideshow to learn about the methods they tested out last month and see some of reactions the test vehicle, a Transit Connect van, got from those who spotted and interacted with it. 

Ford noted that while the intent of these efforts is to help develop industry-standard visual signals for autonomous vehicles, the company is also working on ways to communicate with the blind and visually impaired.


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