Self-Driving Cars May Smile at You: Report
When your self-driving car picks you up from work, wouldn’t it be great if it smiled at you? That’s the idea driving tech firm Semcon’s concept.
The Japanese believe that almost all objects contain a spirit and it is why all Japanese cars – whether supermini or super coupé – are designed so that they appear to have a ‘happy’ face. But Semcon and research institute Viktoria Swedish ICT are taking things much, much further. Together they have developed a Smiling Car concept that can quite literally turn its frown upside-down whenever it sees a pedestrian.
On the surface, such an idea may seem silly, but don’t laugh. As cars become more autonomous, carmakers are going to have to go to greater lengths to humanize many of their systems.
“A lot of the discussions regarding self-driving cars are about the car’s technology. But how these vehicles will interact with unprotected road users is just as important,” said Karin Eklund, who is responsible for User Experience at Semcon.
This is particularly true in situations such as at junctions and crossroads where a human driver would physically signal his or her intent to pedestrians, cyclists or other road users. According to Semcon’s own research, eight out of 10 pedestrians say they always make eye contact with a driver when crossing the road.
“The strength behind The Smiling Car is that we allow people to communicate in the way they are used to, instead of taking an unnecessary detour via technology,” explains Eklund.
The smile is universal – if someone’s smiling at you, they’ve seen you. And, as such it’s a very simple and potentially ingenious as well as amusing solution to a future obstacle.
Semcon is a technology and parts supplier to the automotive industry, but carmakers themselves are working seriously on this issue. For example, Nissan has anthropologist Melissa Cefkin on its autonomous technology team. She is trying to understand the human elements of driving and recreate them as part of self-driving car technology.
“Adding this autonomous dimension to [cars] will bring around further changes in society, all the way down to the everyday way in which we interact and behave on the road,” said Cefkin. “We’re trying to distil out of our work some key lessons for what an autonomous vehicle will need to know .”
Semcon’s smiling car is in its early stages. The company now hopes to add other sensors that can track a person’s eye or head movement sufficiently to know if that person has seen the car and is responding in kind.
“Today there are clear agreements on how cars must indicate when changing lanes. We now need to develop a common language for how self-driving cars will interact with pedestrians,” said Semcon CEO Markus Granlund.