Silicon Valley start-up Drive.ai wants to address a problem most automakers in the driverless car race haven’t talked about: if there’s no one in the front seat of the car, how do you communicate with pedestrians on the street?
You may not realise it, but we actually rely on good old hand gestures more times than we realise when driving. Sure, there are rules in driver’s education about who gets the right of way at the dreaded four-way intersection. But more times than not, we rely on hand gestures or the nod of a head to let someone know it’s OK to go. Driverless cars don’t have that luxury built in.
Drive.ai is addressing that issue with its roof kit, which consists of driverless tech and an LED sign that can communicate with pedestrians in both text and pictures.
“Most of the time robots are behind caution tape, in the lab,” co-founder and president Carol Reiley told Business Insider. “This is really one of the first times people are going to interact with a robot, and it needs to over communicate, really.”
But Drive.ai isn’t the only one looking at ways to improve the communication gap between driverless cars and pedestrians.
Google filed a patent for a driverless car system that will display messages to pedestrians at crosswalks, and a BMW self-driving concept car features a system for visually communicating messages to pedestrians.
Mercedes-Benz is really looking to address the issue through its Future Talk Robotics program that is bringing together robotic experts and linguists to create a language for driverless cars.
Still, Drive.ai is operating on a more aggressive timeline than other companies. Its goal is to roll the product out through its partnerships with other auto companies before 2020, and eventually to get the product on the consumer market. Reiley declined to disclose which partners Drive.ai is working with.
“Once you figure out ‘how do I get from Point A to Point B,’ there is this human aspect of things that no one is really talking about, which is if a self-driving car is this new social robot that’s going out in the world, how is it communicating with everyone?” Reiley said.