Jaguar Driverless ‘Tips the Wink’ to Gain Consumer Trust

A carmaker has enlisted the help of a team of cognitive psychologists to better understand how vehicle behavior affects human confidence.

British automaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has fitted virtual eyes to pod-like autonomous cars in order to understand how humans will trust self-driving vehicles. The eyes, designed by a team of engineers working in the company’s Future Mobility division, seek out the pedestrian, appearing to look directly at them, signaling to road users that it has identified them and that it intends to make a move. The goal is to find out if it is beneficial to provide humans with information about a vehicle’s intentions, or whether simply letting a pedestrian know he or she has been recognized is enough to improve confidence.

The whole test is carried out, not in the real world but on a fabricated street scene in Coventry, where the pods analyze the behavior of pedestrians as they wait to cross the road. Engineers will then record trust levels in the person before and after the pod makes eye contact to find out whether the pod generates sufficient confidence that it would stop for them.

A May survey by AAA found that following a series of high-profile crashes, nearly three-quarters of US drivers would be afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, a jump up from 63% at the end of last year. Most consumers think roads are safer with humans driving than they would be if all vehicles were autonomous, an August Cox Automotive Mobility study found. The trials are part of a wider study exploring how future connected and autonomous vehicles can replicate human behavior and reactions when driving. As part of the study, more than 500 test subjects have been studied interacting with the self-driving pods. The trust trials form part of Jaguar Land Rover’s government-supported UK Autodrive project.

“It’s second nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road. Understanding how this translates in tomorrow’s more automated world is important,” Pete Bennett, future-mobility research manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement.

The company is also developing off-road, self-driving SUVs through a venture called Cortex – a $5M project designed to explore all-terrain and all-weather autonomous vehicle capabilities. The automaker is deploying “5D” technology to enable Level 4 and 5 off-road automation, which means the SUV would be able to adapt to sudden changes with ability equal to or greater than a human driver.

In the US, Ford recently pledged to help develop a new language that allows AVs to communicate their intentions to the pedestrians around them. One example Ford gave of a technology in development is a windshield light-bar that produces different light patterns to signal its intent. White lights shifting slowly back and forth let pedestrians know that the car is yielding; rapidly blinking lights let pedestrians know that a stopped car is about to move. Ford has already tested the light bar for more than 180 hours and over approximately 2,300 miles in dense urban areas.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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