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Now we’re talking! Driverless cars to communicate with people

Talking cars: changing the pedestrian experience (Photo: Fotolia)

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Julian Ebert
Julian Ebert
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Stanford startup Drive.ai to test software that enables driverless cars to "talk" to pedestrians.

Could self-driving vehicles become the talk of the town? Despite the promising title, we are (unfortunately) not about to see Herbie- or KITT-like vehicles driving around our roads. What you could encounter however are cars that in some way or another are able to communicate with those around them.

Aiming to replace the human or emotional element of driving, autonomous car startup Drive.ai has announced plans to test driverless vehicles that can signal their intentions to humans using roof-mounted billboards. As reported by Wired, the screens will be able to show text and pictures to communicate. For startup cofounder and president of Drive.ai Carol Reiley, the emotional factor is central to driverless car development: "It’s surprising that the human side has been engineered out of the equation,” she says.

According to Wired, some of the biggest hurdles for such a system could be language and literacy. Whilst human-to-human interaction does not rely on words alone – it is possible to encourage people to cross the road using hand signals for example – a computerized system does not have the luxury of such subtleties. Alternatives to the written word however, such as signal colors, will only work if they are standardized across the driverless community. The company has also apparently toyed with emoji-base signaling.

As reported by MIT Technology Review, the system Drive.ai is developing is primarily focused on deep learning. The systems will apparently be trained to interpret data from sensors and control a vehicle’s actions. It is also reported that cars could eventually learn how drivers and pedestrians behave. With the startup founded by former grad students working in Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, the AI expertise from the university will be called upon during this project, writes the MIT Technology Review. With testing now underway, it seems our streets could become a much friendlier place in the future.

Read more on Wired here or the MIT Technology Review here.

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Julian Ebert
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