Jaguar Land Rover trialing self-driving pods with ‘virtual eyes’ to interact with pedestrians

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Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has fitted ‘virtual eyes’ to intelligent pods to understand how humans will trust self-driving vehicles, as part of the government-supported UK Autodrive project that aims to prepare the country for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

Research studies suggest that as many as 63% of pedestrians worry about how safe it will be to cross the road in the future, with the widespread deployment of automated vehicles. JLR has helped develop the friendly-faced ‘eye pods’ that have a vital job in helping to work out how much information future self-driving cars should share with users or pedestrians, in order to ensure that people trust the technology. As part of the engineering project, JLR has enlisted the help of a team of cognitive psychologists to better understand how vehicle behavior affects human confidence in new technology.

The intelligent pods run autonomously on a fabricated street scene in Coventry, while the behavior of pedestrians is analyzed as they wait to cross the road. The ‘eyes’ have been devised by a team of advanced engineers, working in JLR’s Future Mobility division. The pods seek out the pedestrian, appearing to ‘look’ directly at them, signaling to road users that it has identified them, and intends to take avoiding action. Engineers record trust levels in the person before and after the pod makes ‘eye contact’ to find out whether it generates sufficient confidence that it would stop for them. Previous studies suggest that the majority of pedestrians and cyclists say they would feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle.

As JLR invests in self-driving, connected, electric, and shared mobility technologies, safety remains the number one priority, as public confidence is essential to their widespread acceptance. The trials are part of a wider study exploring how future connected and autonomous vehicles can replicate human behavior and reactions when driving. As part of the study, more than 500 test subjects have been studied interacting with the self-driving pods, which are designed by UK Autodrive partner Aurrigo, the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group, one of the country’s pioneers in ‘first mile – last mile’ mobility systems.

“It’s second-nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road. Understanding how this translates in tomorrow’s more automated world is important,” explained Pete Bennett, future mobility research manager at JLR. “We want to know if it is beneficial to provide humans with information about a vehicle’s intentions or whether simply letting a pedestrian know it has been recognized is enough to improve confidence.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.

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