The company aimed harsh criticism at the humble car horn: "Cars’ communication features, from blinkers to the horn, have not been reimagined in decades. There’s an incredible opportunity to improve this communication, especially in the case of self-driving cars where there is no human driver to indicate with hand gestures or facial signals. The horn, for example, is one of the worst designed features in the car today. It’s one sound/tone, and you can’t tell who it’s targeted at or what the intention is -- it could be anything from a polite nudge to an angry exclamation."
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It’s not yet been made clear if more aggressive emojis, like a punching fist or middle finger, would be available for use, with critics of the proposal suggesting that the idea may exacerbate road rage incidents. Drive.ai argued the opposite, saying "Adding a layer of communication to self-driving cars is in fact designed to minimize frustration for other drivers and pedestrians because it creates transparency around what the car is doing and why. When drivers and pedestrians are unsure of what the self-driving car is “thinking,” that unpredictability leads to distrust, anger, and thereby road rage."
In addition to the display’s ability to show emojis, the display can also show text, as well as having the ability to make sounds to aid the car’s communication with other road users. A spokesman from Drive.ai clarified the system's selection of the emojis used, explaining that a deep learning algorithm would determine which would be used depending on the situation, and that the driver would have no input into which symbols are transmitted.
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Sahar Danesh, Principal Policy Advisor for Transport at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said: “A great deal of research is being carried out on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies, this work is interesting as it is exploring the vehicle-to-human interaction.
Currently when we want to cross the road, we try to make sure the driver is aware of us; so how will we do that with autonomous cars – how will we know the car has noted our presence and it is safe to cross the road? IET research has revealed that 82% of the British public believe that technology has had a positive impact on their day-to-day lives and emojis are a common feature of other social technologies so it makes sense to consider these in this context.
So this research will open the opportunity to start experimenting with autonomous vehicle technology and to consider how the public will interact with them. We encourage testing and look forward to seeing how this develops.”