Jaguar Land Rover is using “virtual eyes” to gauge human trust of autonomous vehicles

If the idea of driverless cars fills you with unease, you’re not alone; reports indicate that 63% of people worry about their safety when crossing streets populated with autonomous vehicles. This fear is something Jaguar Land Rover aims to quash, with its “virtual eyes” tipped to understand more about human trust of self-driving cars.

The “virtual eyes” in question will be fitted on self-driving pods to interact with pedestrians, making (virtual) eye contact to display intent. While it sounds like an ocular nightmare – Black Mirror meets those googly eyes you get in craft packs – its overarching objective is an appealing and, from the sounds of it, much-needed one: To better understand human trust of autonomous vehicles.

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The endeavour will combine brain power of top-of-their-game engineers (with Tesla’s former head of engineering joining Apple, the stakes are certainly hotting up) with a team of cognitive psychologists. The winning professional combination is on a mission to one day ensure that people trust nascent but burgeoning driverless technologies.

The “trust trials”, as they’re being dubbed, are being undertaken in Coventry in the safe realms of a warehouse. Volunteer pedestrians’ behaviour is analysed as they prepare to cross the (fabricated) road. During the interaction,JLR’s intelligent pods scan for pedestrians, appearing to make eye contact with them upon recognition. This feat will, it is hoped, reassure pedestrians that their presence has been acknowledged, and that corresponding action will be taken.

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As Pete Bennett, Future Mobility Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, explains: “It’s second-nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road. Understanding how this translates in tomorrow’s more automated world is important.

“We want to know if it is beneficial to provide humans with information about a vehicle’s intentions or whether simply letting a pedestrian know it has been recognised is enough to improve confidence.”

The news comes amid deeply entrenched anxiety about the future of autonomous vehicles, after March this year saw an Arizona woman killed by an Uber driverless car. And it seems not even the incorruptible Apple is safe from controversy, with a recent report from the California Department of Motor Vehicles disclosing that a test Apple Car had experienced its first crash, albeit at a glacial one mile per hour.

With the unstoppable onslaught of self-driving cars not looking likely to slow down any time soon, you’ve got to commend Jaguar Land Rover for endeavouring to quell pedestrian (and cyclist) anxiety and strive for more robust – and reassuring – interaction between vehicles and road users. Only then can we get everyone aboard the autonomous revolution.

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