Self-Driving Car Research Leaves Locals Baffled in Virginia, But Worked Perfectly for Ford

When you make eye contact with a pedestrian waiting at the side of a crosswalk, they know you see them, and are going to let them cross. When someone forgets it's their turn to go at a four-way stop, you wave them on.

How can autonomous cars, with no drivers, communicate these signals?

Ford and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute tested out a system using a bar of lights:

  • Lights on means the car is in self-driving mode
  • Two lights moving side-to-side means the vehicle is yielding
  • All lights blinking means vehicle is starting to move again after a stop

Many residents in the Virginia cities where the test was conducted were confused. The tone of an Arlington news article about the driverless van made it sound like a mysterious conspiracy of some kind.

Ford's test of the signal lights worked perfectly, however—even the bamboozled article noted, "When the car stopped at a red light, the light bar started blinking. When the signal turned green and the car started driving, the blinking stopped."

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