February, 23 2017
Crossing a busy street might be easier in a driverless future. In Blink, a new concept designed for driverless cars, when you want to cross–and you’re not at a crosswalk–you can hold up your hand, and the car will stop and light up with a green walk signal on the windshield and rear window. If you don’t want to cross, you can wave the car ahead, and it will signal that it understands.
The Blink design integrates an organic light-emitting diode display into the windscreen and rear window of the car and uses light signals to show pedestrians when the car is aware of their presence. If the car’s sensors detect a pedestrian nearby, a figure lights up that mirrors their movements, accompanied by a bleep. If a pedestrian raises their hand as a stop sign, the figure turns green, and the car is prevented from moving forward. If they place a hand out to the side to motion the car forward, the figure turns red and the car can continue.
The technology responds to gestures using machine learning. While the team has so far trained it to recognize a hand gesturing to stop or keep moving, the system is also designed to continue learning hundreds of other culture-specific gestures.
While some autonomous car concepts signal to pedestrians that it’s safe to cross (one, for example, smiles at pedestrians as it stops), this design allows for two-way communication–and gives pedestrians more power. A raised hand doesn’t always stop the car–if it can’t safely brake in time, it won’t. But on roads designed to favor cars, it helps give pedestrians a voice.
In 2015, Google was granted a patent that described mounting electronic screens to the outside of vehicles that could display text and road signs, with a speaker that could call out “coming through” or “safe to cross”. The idea is to help people feel more comfortable around driverless cars, says Blink co-creator Raunaq Bose. “This provides a really nice opportunity to rebalance the road power dynamic.”
Cars would have LED screens to communicate with pedestrians