Royal College of Art/Imperial College, Innovation Design Engineering
Our transport systems currently heavily rely on the ability for drivers and pedestrians to interact in a vehicle-dominated environment: stopping to let people cross, letting people go and judging whether it is safe to move.
The advent of autonomous vehicles is set to further weight the power of the road to the car. So far, almost all development efforts have gone into the cars themselves and how they communicate with each other, with little consideration for how people feel or act outside of the car.
Raunaq and his team are working on a novel new technology which will act as a common language for autonomous vehicles and pedestrians, allowing them to interact on the roads of the future. Sensors fitted on autonomous vehicles already identify objects and pedestrians around them – the proposed system then makes a directed sound and flashes up pedestrians’ silhouettes on displays built into the four corners of the vehicle to let them know it can ‘see’ them. Pedestrians can then use conventional gestures to let the car know of their intentions to cross or not, and the car responds with either flashing green (letting pedestrians know that they are safe to cross) or red (acknowledging they don’t want to cross).
The system has been taught to recognise a number of human gestures (such as raising a hand up to ask to cross, or to the side to give way), and can be recalibrated to different gestures in different locales and cultures.
Rather than forcing humans to adapt to new technologies, the project aims to develop ways on making new technologies fit with established human behaviours, to improve the ease of adoption, and make pedestrians safe and comfortable in urban environments.