Here’s Why a Van Driven By Someone Dressed as a Car Seat Was Driving Around Arlington

Last month, an Ford minivan prowling around Arlington combined a stir when it seemed to be pushing autonomously. But, as WRC-TV contributor Adam Tuss and ARLNow publisher Scott Brodbeck discovered, a automobile was indeed being operated by a male dressed as a automobile seat. In a moment, though, a whole operation seemed a bit untrustworthy when a motorist refused to respond to Tuss’s drumming on a window and pleas for an interview.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute claimed credit for a “driverless” van, observant it was partial of an autonomous-vehicle investigate project. On Wednesday, Virginia Tech and Ford supposing a bit some-more information on a experiment—along with some flattering conspicuous photos of a costume’s public and how typical pedestrians reacted to it.

Ford and Virginia Tech are perplexing to rise a process by that self-driving cars will correlate with people with whom they share streets. If unconstrained cars are to be widely used in a future, a meditative goes, they’ll need to be means to promulgate with humans to vigilance when they’re about to accelerate or brake. After all, a driverless automobile can’t call or curtsy we by a intersection, and your lifted middle-finger means zero to a self-operating machine.

“We need to solve for a hurdles presented by not carrying a tellurian driver, so conceptualizing a approach to reinstate a conduct curtsy or palm call is elemental to ensuring protected and fit operation of self-driving vehicles in a communities,” John Shutko, a Ford researcher who specializes in “human factors,” says in a news release.

With each vital automobile manufacturer and large tech firms like Amazon and Google building unconstrained vehicles, a idea is to emanate some kind of attention customary that can be practical around a world. (According to Wired, Ford is operative with 11 other carmakers.)

For a Arlington experiment, Ford given a Transit Connect outpost with a light bar mounted inside a windshield. Ford and Virginia Tech afterwards devised 3 signals to warning people to a car’s behavior: dual white lights relocating side-to-side for when a automobile is entrance to a stop, a plain white light when a automobile is driving, and a fast blinking white light to prove it’s about to start relocating again.

But Ford and Virginia Tech weren’t prepared to entrust this amicable examination to an tangible unconstrained van. Enter a chair suit: Virginia Tech devised an apparatus that resembles a bucket seats in a Transit Connect van, that a motorist afterwards donned before rolling by Arlington contrast out a signals.

Over 150 hours and 1,800 miles of driving, a automobile and a costumed motorist tested out that blinking light bar in some-more than 1,650 interactions with pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists around Arlington. Cameras mounted around a outpost constraint a brew of artless bystanders and a few astounded reactions.


Benjamin Freed assimilated Washingtonian in Aug 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was formerly a editor of DCist and has also created for Washington City Paper, a New York Times, a New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.

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