A self-driving car that smiles at pedestrians has been developed by Swedish firm Semcon.
The concept machine has been built with a display mounted in the grille that shows a smile when stopped at crossings, letting pedestrians know that it’s safe to cross even if the driver isn’t in control of the vehicle at the time.
The concept was developed in response to industry concerns that autonomous vehicles won’t be able to communicate with other road users, including pedestrians, in the way that human drivers can. A survey carried out by Semcon that found eight out of 10 pedestrians look for eye contact with drivers when preparing to cross the street. With the emergence of self-driving cars, that eye contact could well be missing in the future.
A spokesman for Semcon said: “When that opportunity is lost, there is a real need to develop some type of communication between the cars and the public for them to feel safe. The same research showed that 57% of pedestrians do not trust self-driving cars.”
The spokesman pointed at a lack of legislation on the subject. “Just as there are clear rules on how cars signal when changing lanes, we now need to develop a common language for how self-driving cars will interact with humans,” he said.
Is the smiling car the solution? It’s one of several approaches being discussed in the industry. Last month a Silicon Valley autonomous driving company, Drive.ai, unveiled a roof-mounted emoji display to communicate with pedestrians.