Ford Works to Develop Standardized Signals for Autonomous Cars to Replace Human Gestures

You approach a crosswalk, but before you step out into the road, you notice a driver is preparing to make a turn. She makes eye contact with you and gives a slight nod. You nod back, and cross the street.

Simple human-to-human communication like that is something we all take for granted, because, well, we're humans. Our brains evolved over millions of years to be intuitively perceptive of social signals. Computers have quite a learning curve ahead of them.

What happens when driverless cars start becoming more common? Ford Motor Company has already been testing its self-driving Fusion Hybrid in the real world, delivering pizzas, and plans to have a fully-autonomous car on the market by 2021.

How will that simple crosswalk scenario play out when there's no driver to make eye contact with?

Ford is currently working with the International Organization for Standardization and SAE International to develop a standardized "language" for self-driving cars to communicate with pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers.

Text displays were ruled out because not everyone speaks the same language, and symbols were rejected because they are difficult to learn and remember (if you still have to consult the owner's manual every time a dashboard light turns on, you're not alone).

Ford's method of choice involves a simple horizontal bar of light, which flashes in different patterns depending on whether the vehicle is yielding, accelerating, or continuing its course.

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