Thursday, September 15, 2016

Autonomous Cars, Delivery Vans and Freight Trucks Need to Smile a Lot More

New Problems Face Everyone from Pedestrians to Road Haulage Outfits in Future
Shipping News Feature
EUROPE – It had to happen, the dangers presented by autonomous vehicles have been well documented but some of the solutions might, at first glance, appear to be even more off the wall than the original concept itself once did. The latest proposal concerns the car, however the solution, if indeed it proves to be one, is equally, if not more applicable, to delivery vans, freight trucks indeed any road vehicle, haulage or otherwise, which has control independent of its driver. Hence the ‘Smiling Car’ concept.

Swedish headquartered technology group Semcon has come up with both a simple fact that will ring true to any pedestrian, and a solution which should at least bring a smile of its own. Eight out of ten pedestrians seek eye contact with the driver when they cross the street, something which may become no longer possible when the driver is patently not in control. The solution? Give the car a facial characteristic which indicates unequivocally that ‘it’ is aware of the pedestrian - a broad smile.

According to several estimates the world will have 10 million autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020 and that eight out of ten figure was confirmed by a Semcon commissioned survey, and for once we have no quibble with that estimate, nor with the fact that 47% of those asked by Semcon’s chosen research company Inizio said they don’t trust self-driving cars.

So how do you prove this seemingly wacky concept? Easy, kit out a car that looks as though the driver is asleep, reading or similarly distracted and drive it at all the pedestrians you meet. The results can be seen in this video. Markus Granlund, president and CEO at Semcon says although there are clear agreements on how cars must indicate when changing lanes it is now necessary to develop a common language for how self-driving cars will interact with pedestrians.

Semcon by the way, is no start up project, it employs 3,000 people in 45 facilities worldwide, and the company says the next step is the possibility of refining ‘The Smiling Car’, with systems for eye tracking and laser technology (Lidar) for a more detailed analysis of the surrounding environment. This would make it possible to perceive small head movements or read the eyes to create an even safer interaction between humans and cars. We covered the development of Lidar and its use in autonomous vehicles in a piece last month. Karin Eklund, who is responsible for User Experience at Semcon comments:

”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. Self-driving cars need to communicate in a way that feels familiar and creates trust. 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.”