Making driverless cars safe for people on foot
Posted by admin on 18th August 2017

Right now, there are two ways to be safe crossing a road: Wait until no cars are close by, so there’s enough time to make it to the other side of the street – or communicate with oncoming drivers. As the number of pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads climbs, up 25 percent since 2010 to more than 5,000 people in 2015, the dawn of driverless cars offers the promise of improving that sad safety record.

Whether we’re at a crosswalk, a traffic light or just walking out in the middle of the road, we’ve learned since we were young that it’s important to make eye contact with the drivers of approaching cars. But that’s not going to be possible with autonomous cars. Even if there’s someone sitting in what would be the driver’s seat, that person will be a passenger, with little – or perhaps no – control over how the car behaves. And that passenger may also be catching up on work, watching a movie or dozing off, paying no attention to what’s up ahead.

People and cars will need to communicate in some other way. With no universally agreed on method for doing this, my own research, and that of a number of tech companies, automobile manufacturers and startups, is exploring using different types of visual signals – akin, perhaps, to a driver waving a person across the street or flashing the car’s headlights to signal their yielding the right of way. Doing that turns out to be quite complicated.