Uber Newest Patent Aims to Have Autonomous Vehicles Speak to Pedestrians

Source: Uber

Self-driving cars in their current state still have a long way to go before they are viable enough to operate without a driver on public roads. Another problem with these cars, at the moment, is the lacking ability to communicate with pedestrians.

It’s pretty easy for a driver to talk with a pedestrian, or give visual gestures, but how will an autonomous vehicle react in situations that require communication? Well, Uber is on the job with a new patent that shows interesting ways driverless cars will talk with humans.

How Does Uber Plan to Go About Making Cars Talk to Humans?

The new patent shows that Uber wants to add several flashing signs to its fleet of autonomous cars in the future. These signs should be effective at communicating with pedestrians from every angle, and if all goes well, folks might become more accepting of robot cars.

You see, the folks at Uber want to add flashing arrow lights on the side-view mirrors, a projector that shows a virtual crosswalk in front of the vehicle, and a virtual driver.

Now, the purpose of the virtual driver is to pop up on the windshield for the sake of speaking with humans via gestures, pretty lights, or audio.

“In the real world, when there’s a human driver, they’re usually not shouting out the window, ‘Hey I’m slowing down now,’” according to Sean Chin, one of the product designer at Uber’s Advanced Technology Group, which manages its autonomous vehicle initiative. “There are subtle things you can do, like a head nod or flashing lights. And while we don’t have a final implementation, what we’re considering is what is a new language we can create to give people that information.”

Chin went on to add that the patent has yet to receive approval from the US Patent Office. Furthermore, he says the design at this time, is more of a framework for the future than anything else.

Could Vehicular Sound Work?

The talented team at Uber are also looking into ways to use vehicular sound to communicate with pedestrians and other drivers.

As it stands, then, it would seem as if the patent is designed to tell pedestrians what to do, at least, in the first phase of this technology. Chin says the ultimate goal is to have the system tell humans what it plans to do, and from there, it would leave the rest up to folks to make their own decisions.

If we can instead say the car is slowing down, then all actors in the area, whether they’re pedestrians or cyclists pulling up along the side, can all interpret the vehicle state and make their own individual decisions,” Chin says.

“As operators, we have a high certainty about what the car is doing and what it plans to do,” he went on to add. “What we need to do is enable pedestrians to interpret this behavior on their own.”

It should be noted that Uber isn’t the only company working on ways for driverless cars to communicate with pedestrians. Google is doing the same, and no doubt others are secretly working on solutions that could become the standard.