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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Human-Robot interaction : Tesla making a right turn

Sooner than we might think, autonomous cars will be zipping around our cities. The drivers won't be drivers, they will be passengers. So they will be paying less or little attention to traffic. I even imagine no more driver seats and everyone in an autonomous cars sitting around a table and socializing. 

But what about the interaction between drivers, pedestrians and bikers? This interaction involves all three being aware of each other, if they aren't dangerous outcomes can be the result.

I'm meticulous about making eye-contact with a driver as my 'interface' for crossing a street. Especially when the car is making a right turn on red. I can't trust that the driver will glance in my direction before accelerating through the turn.

Safety dictates that you should make eye-contact with a driver before walking in front of them. How do you do that with a autonomous car?

Granted that even current autonomous cars won't run you over, they have sensors to prevent that. But if you do walk in-front of one with just the right timing, there will be a jolting reaction from the car. After accelerating to make the turn, the car will suddenly stop. Which will be alarming to the pedestrian and also jolting the passengers. This is an experience that would be better if it could be avoided.

Also, just imagine if you were standing behind a street pole in a way that the autonomous sensors didn't see you? You then cross the street, thinking the car senses you. In this case, the car won't run you over. But nonetheless, the reaction is still jolting. 

Being able to make right turns at a red light help ease traffic and are important for city congestion. But they require a delicate safety check by the driver. I have a simple idea to make them safer and less cumbersome for autonomous cars.

How about a simple light that tells the pedestrian what the car is sensing?
Red light = I'm an autonomous car but I don't see you. Therefore, I think it is okay to make a turn!

Wouldn't it be cooler if we put a bright light on the autonomous car that indicated the intent of the car? The pedestrian would look at this light, much like they would towards the eyes of a driver. Position this light near where the human-human contact would have occurred. 

If the light was green, it tells the pedestrian that they are seen by the car and they can walk. If the light is a bright red, the pedestrian knows to use caution, the car doesn't see them. Helping to take away the guess work and clearly show how the AI is thinking.

But, what about blind people? They won't see this light. Maybe they could have a safety sensor that listens for a high-pitch sound that informs the blind person whether they can proceed or not. The autonomous car emits a sound as indication of what the car intent is at that moment.