The trial, conducted with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, also made use of a light bar mounted on the top of the windshield to provide communication about what the vehicle was doing, including yielding, driving autonomously or accelerating from a full stop.
Yes, you read that correctly: Ford put a man in a auto seat disguise so that a Ford Transit could masquerade as a true self-driving vehicle. Why?
The test is just the start, though already Ford and VTTI have run 150 hours of tests covering around 1,800 miles in their urban testing ground, with a dense concentration of pedestrians, other drivers and cyclists. The van was spotted in Arlington, Va., where it caused quite a stir and caught the attention of local media.
Shutko wrote that the seat suit not only allowed Ford and the team at Virginia Tech to collect real-world reactions to the seemingly autonomous van but it also allowed Ford to test a bar of white lights positioned at the top of the windshield.
Three different light signals were used to indicate the auto meant to yield (two white lights moving side to side), when it was engaged in active autonomous driving (solid white light), and when it was starting to go (a rapidly blinking white light to indicate the vehicle is about to accelerate from a stop).
But in a post on Medium on Wednesday, John Shutko, Ford's human factors technical specialist for self-driving vehicles, wrote the project was a two-way street.
The white lights moved from side to side across the bar to indicate a yield.
"Through our testing, we believe these signals have the chance to become an accepted visual language that helps address an important societal issue in how self-driving vehicles interact with humans", he continued.
Ford and VTTI conducted VR testing to discover that these definitely need to be learned - people need a few different exposures before they clue in. The eventual goal is to continue with light signal research, and then to work together with industry standards organizations including the International Organization for Standardization and SAE International to make these shared in common across automotive and transportation companies.