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How Would Self-Driving Cars Communicate With Pedestrians?

September 14th, 2017


Ford Is Testing Ways For Autonomous Vehicles To Communicate With Pedestrians in Urban Settings like Downtown Grand Rapids

Borgman Ford knows that many West Michigan drivers are at least curious about autonomous vehicles and the progress Ford is making toward bringing them to market. As these vehicles undergo more and more testing, we start to unearth some problems. Some of them are software bugs or mechanical flaws, and those are relatively easy to correct over time. It’s the social hurdles that will prove more difficult to overcome.

If you’ve ever driven through downtown Grand Rapids, you know exactly how important it is to communicate with pedestrians or other drivers – even non-verbally. The head-nod, the wave, or even just eye contact can signal a driver’s intent to others around them. How will autonomous vehicles do the same? Ford and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute are currently testing a solution: a series of lights mounted behind the windshield that flashes three easily-recognizable patterns to people around the vehicle.

These patterns are fairly intuitive, with a solid light indicating that the vehicle is in “autonomous mode,” back-and-forth pattern to show that the vehicle is yielding, and flashing lights to alert others that the vehicle is accelerating. This is not only helpful to pedestrians near the vehicle but to other drivers as well, such as in the awkward “who goes first?” scenario at 4-way stops. In the article below, you can watch a video of the system being tested by a driver disguised as a Ford Transit seat, as well as the effort to standardize a system like this to be ubiquitous. Here are some highlights:

Ford, Virginia Tech Go Undercover to Develop Signals That Enable Autonomous Vehicles to Communicate with People

Today, a simple head nod or hand wave from a driver is usually enough to indicate it’s okay for a pedestrian to cross the street, but in an autonomous vehicle future, how will a self-driving car with no human driver communicate with pedestrians, cyclists or humans operating other cars on the road?

Looking to prepare for this eventual reality, Ford Motor Company partnered with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, to conduct a user experience study to test out a method for communicating a vehicle’s intent by soliciting real-world reactions to a self-driving car on public roads.

So Ford outfitted a Transit Connect van with a light bar placed on the windshield. To simulate a fully self-driving experience without using an actual autonomous vehicle, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute team developed a way to conceal the driver with a “seat suit.”

A driver disguises himself as a car seat to test people's reaction to a Ford Autonomous VehicleThe suit creates the illusion of a fully autonomous vehicle, which is necessary to test and evaluate real-world encounters and behaviors. The simulated autonomous Transit Connect was driven on public roads in northern Virginia – home to a density of traffic and pedestrians – throughout August, with researchers capturing video and logs of pedestrian reactions.

“This work is of value not only to vehicle users and manufacturers but also to anyone who walks, rides or drives alongside autonomous vehicles in the future,” said Andy Schaudt, project director, Center for Automated Vehicle Systems, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “We are proud to support Ford in developing this important research.”

You can read the full article by visiting

How Ford’s Research Helps Grand Rapids Drivers Today

Though seeing a fully-autonomous Ford vehicle cruise around West Michigan is still a few years off, you can visit Borgman Ford in Grand Rapids today to see some of the semi-autonomous features that are available in New Ford vehicles. Ford’s research into self-driving cars has helped them integrate things like Enhanced Active Park Assist, the Blind Spot Information System, Lane-Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go and Pre-Collision Assist, and more into the current lineup.

Stop by for a visit and ask one of our friendly and knowledgeable sales associates to show you these unique features on one of the many New Ford Vehicles that support them, such as the New 2018 Ford Fusion. Feel free to take any of our vehicles out for a test drive too – and see what makes Borgman Ford the Best in the West!


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