Self-driving cars will employ a number of attention-grabbing gimmicks to let pedestrians know they’re coming

Take a moment to imagine what the world would look like if every single car on the road were autonomous. The way that traffic flows would be fundamentally changed, and with it, the way that pedestrians themselves use and cross roads as well. Without actual human drivers sitting in the driver’s seat, there would be no one to communicate with pedestrians that might be in the way.

Uber believes it has a number of possible solutions up its sleeve. The ride-sharing and self-driving car company filed for a patent at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which was recently made public, and in it the company details its ideas for car-to-pedestrian communication systems that can be implemented in its own self-driving vehicles.

The most likely scenario that would occur between most self-driving cars and pedestrians regularly in the future is this: A car driving through a seemingly empty road until a designated crosswalk area, wherein it will begin to slow down and let people cross first before continuing on its journey. Apart from putting up markings on the side of the road as well as on the road itself, it appears that Uber thinks certain adornments need to be present on its own cars as well.

According to information from the patent filing, Uber is planning to develop a “light output system” for their self-driving vehicles, which would involve the use of “a corresponding set of reactive outputs using the light output system to indicate the set of autonomous driving actions being executed, where the corresponding set of reactive outputs replacing the set of intention outputs.” In other words, Uber’s idea is to replace the human driver and his or her driver signals with indicator lights, which will be visible to anyone that is outside of the vehicle.

For example, flashing arrows could be shown through the vehicle’s side mirrors, and even the sides of the car could show signs at the exact same time. And the on the hood of the car, a projector could be built right in so the vehicle can beam a virtual crosswalk onto the road in front of it, indicating that pedestrians can cross right then and there. Basically, the car would be outfitted with different types of flashing lights, signs, and noises in order to let people know about where it’s going or what exactly it’s doing on the road in specific moments. (Related: No self-driving allowed: Uber wants to ban privately-owned self-driving vehicles in your city.)

According to Sean Chin, one of the product designer’s at Uber’s Advanced Technology Group, which is in charge of the company’s self-driving program, they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them before they can truly match the real world signals that are used by actual human drivers. “In the real world, when there’s a human driver, they’re usually not shouting out the window, ‘Hey I’m slowing down now,'” he explained. “There are subtle things you can do, like a head nod or flashing lights. And while we don’t have final implementation, what we’re considering is what is a new language we can create to give people that information.”

It may seem a bit ridiculous now, but it’s not hard to imagine such systems in place in the future, especially if they can be shown to prevent accidents and end up saving human lives. For now, the patent hasn’t been approved yet, but it could serve as the framework for the eventual safety system that many self-driving vehicles use in the future.

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