One of the questions I get as a planning student interested in transportation is “what do you think of self-driving cars?”
I haven’t fully thought out whether I’m for/against self-driving cars. I think any over-reliance on the automobile is problematic, and I wonder at what point we’ll reach the tipping point of adoption where we’ll see wider benefits (e.g., less storage needed for traditional cars). I also think that the proponents of self-driving cars should consider equity and who exactly will reap the touted benefits.
One concern that I do have from a pedestrian safety perspective is how would pedestrians be able to discern whether or not a car was aware of their presence?
As Adele Peters describes in this Co.Exist article, you know the dance: 1) You approach a crosswalk. 2) An oncoming car seems to slow down (“wow, might they possibly be obeying the law and letting me cross?” you wonder). 3) Then the driver gives a wave or head nod and you know that it’s okay to walk in front of them and they’ve seen you. 4) The car comes to a full stop and you safely enter and exit the crosswalk. You might even give them a friendly wave in return (“thanks for not running me over, neighbor!”).
But with a self-driving car…how will this work? In a brilliant answer to this problem, Semcon, a Swedish engineering firm, has developed a “smiling car” concept to communicate with pedestrians. Watch below:
Isn’t that cool?
Semcon notes that at this point, it’s just a concept. There need to be international standards for how self-driving cars communicate with their surroundings.