The week started out well for Uber, as they filed a patent application for autonomous cars to “speak” to their environment (and thus other drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, etc.) through flashing lights that are wrapped around the car. As Sean Chin, a product designer at Uber’s Advanced Technology Group, which oversees its autonomous vehicle program, states, they are considering “a new language” that can relay the same information to people that a nod or a flash of lights would. Since the patent hasn’t been approved yet, it should be considered as more of a framework to work with in future rather than the final version.
Looking at the fatal crash with a pedestrian that happened later in the week, this patent may be one way to improve the way autonomous vehicles communicate with their surroundings and ensure greater safety for anyone on the road. Video footage has been released of the Uber accident in Arizona, which shows the vehicle failing to slow down and driver also only noticing the pedestrian at the very last moment. The cars rely on radar sensors that are supposed to detect any obstacles, other cars or people, but have “safety drivers” who are able to again gain control of the car in the case something goes wrong.
The patent application for making the outside of the cars communicate better with everything around them might be one step in the right direction to avoid such accidents in future. Case in point: Uber isn’t the only company looking at how to change the way in which self-driving cars communicate. Google has its own patent, and the San Fransisco-based startup Drive.ai is similarly working on LED signs on the car communicating via text and emojis.
With the relationships of people to their cars changing, it is necessary to reevaluate how the interactions between people and the autonomous vehicles chauffeuring them around have to adapt as well. Lighting them up like a Christmas tree is just one way this can be done.
Image: US Patent Application