Google Just Solved a Major Issue in Its Autonomous Cars

In a future full of distracted drivers, cars will need a way to communicate with the outside world.


There's one interaction that will disappear in the world of autonomous vehicles: the one between driver and pedestrian.

The interaction that comes to mind: You're stopped in your car at a crosswalk; a pedestrian is waiting to cross; your eyes meet; and either you give them the wave to go ahead or they give you the wave. It's a simple but important piece of communication that's lost in the world of distracted riders. Indeed, the future passengers of these autonomous cars will be too busy looking down at their phones, too distracted to pay any mind to the world outside their mobile bubble. That's why it's important that the car itself has the ability to communicate with the people outside.

Google now has a patent for that. 

The abstract reads:

“Aspects of the disclosure relate generally to notifying a pedestrian of the intent of a self-driving vehicle. For example, the vehicle may include sensors which detect an object such as a pedestrian attempting or about to cross the roadway in front of the vehicle. The vehicle’s computer may then determine the correct way to respond to the pedestrian. For example, the computer may determine that the vehicle should stop or slow down, yield, or stop if it is safe to do so. The vehicle may then provide a notification to the pedestrian of what the vehicle is going to or is currently doing. For example, the vehicle may include a physical signaling device, an electronic sign or lights, a speaker for providing audible notifications, etc.”

This would allow Google to outfit signs on the side doors of its cars to notify pedestrians whether or not it's safe to cross in front of the vehicle. Then again, pedestrians do have the right of way, so it's questionable whether future street walkers will ever heed the robo-car's warnings.

Google has already made strides to modify its autonomous cars' behaviors by making their driving patterns more “human.” This latest development is an attempt to replace an important driver responsibility. We'll be interested to see how it works out.

***

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Staff

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