JLR uses virtual eyes on driverless pods for pedestrian trust trials

Jaguar Land Rover is experimenting with virtual eyes on driverless pods to communicate vehicle intent to pedestrians crossing the road. 

According to JLR, 63 per cent of pedestrians have reservations about road safety when autonomous vehicles become more prevalent. Engineers from the carmaker have been working with cognitive psychologists to study how people interact at pedestrian crossings. Specifically, they are looking at how drivers indicate that they are stopping and it is safe to cross, as well as the confidence pedestrians receive once this intention is given.

To replicate that interaction in the absence of a driver, engineers from JLR’s Future Mobility division equipped driverless pods with virtual eyes. The intelligent pods run autonomously on a fabricated street scene at Aurrigo’s Urban Driving Laboratory in Coventry, while the behaviour of pedestrians is analysed as they wait to cross the road. The pods seek out the pedestrian – appearing to look directly at them – signalling to road users that it has identified them, and intends to take avoiding action.

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

virtual eyes

“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.”

Engineers record trust levels in the person before and after the virtual eyes make contact to find out whether it generates sufficient confidence that it would stop for them. The trials are part of a wider study exploring how future connected and autonomous vehicles can replicate human behaviour and reactions when driving. As part of the study, more than 500 test subjects have been studied interacting with the self-driving pods, designed by UK Autodrive partner Aurrigo.