Mercedes-Benz: Autonomous cars need empathy and trust in order to be accepted by people

Aurel Dragan 06/02/2019 | 14:18

Autonomous cars will become an integral part of the mobility of the future and Mercedes-Benz believes that empathy and trust are key factors in accepting autonomous vehicles. For people to have confidence in cars, they must be able to understand the next movements of the stand-alone vehicle immediately. Mercedes-Benz investigates the concept of “informed confidence” with the “interactive car”.

At the base of the Interactive Vehicle is a Class S car, with 360° lights. The turquoise lights on the roof indicate the autonomous driving mode and provide information on the following actions.

  • Permanent light indicates that the vehicle is in stand-alone driving mode, whether moving or staying.
  • The blinking signal indicates that the vehicle is braking.
  • The quick beacon signals that the vehicle will be moving in a short time.

Alternative light concepts are also tested: turquoise light strips on the windscreen, radiator grille, headlights, exterior mirrors, and on the underside of the windows to indicate to pedestrians and other road users that the vehicle is in autonomous driving mode. Short lines of highlighted dots indicate to other road users that they have been recognized. Only pedestrians and cyclists whose route coincides with that of the car are brightly lit. In this way, the interactive vehicle recreates visual contact between a driver and a pedestrian.

The Interactive Class S car alerts traffic participants in the immediate vicinity that they will move while they are still on the roadside. The light strips around the car emit a connected light signal. The side mirrors are folded outwards, and the rear of the vehicle, then the front one, rises. These movements are similar to a living being that wakes up and stretches. People can recognize this communication intuitively.

Studies have shown that pedestrians prefer 360° communication and turquoise color

360° light signaling is very important for informing pedestrians. These were the conclusions of several studies carried out by Mercedes-Benz in Sindelfingen and the Immendingen Testing Area (Germany), opened in September 2018. The research has analyzed pedestrian responses to autonomous vehicles signposted differently under different traffic conditions. Thus, it has been demonstrated that light signaling has a major effect on pedestrians in accepting autonomous vehicles and in feeling safe near them.

Specifically, people prefer light signals in those situations where they would normally interact with a driver. For example, people are accustomed to eye contact with a driver when they want to cross the street. If the light signal indicates that a vehicle is in the autonomous driving mode, the pedestrians feel safe even if the passengers are not aware of the traffic.

Most participants in this study preferred turquoise for signaling color, and all participants were in favor of 360° signaling. The findings of Mercedes-Benz’s research on autonomous leadership contribute to the work of SAE International, an international engineering association that develops mobility standards and standards. Thus, Mercedes-Benz recommends the use of turquoise color for 360° signaling, a color that has not previously been used in the automotive field.

The vision of the future: vehicle bodywork as a method of communication

In addition to studies and the conclusions of interactive light vehicle signaling, Mercedes-Benz considers long-term solutions to facilitate “informed confidence” between people and cars. In this context, informed confidence contrasts with blindness. In the case of an interactive vehicle, the entire bodywork becomes a 360 ° communication medium. The classic bodywork becomes a “Digital Exterior”.

Mercedes-Benz has already taken a step in this direction in 2015 with the research vehicle F 015. This vehicle has a digital grid that can be used as a communication medium. The following year, this concept was also taken over by Vision Van, a study for an electric monoblock with integrated delivery drones for the final destination. Vision Van has both LED front and rear LED screens. For example, the car can issue alerts such as “Vehicle stops”. In 2018, Vision URBANETIC, a mobility concept for efficient, sustainable, on demand transport, has led this design even further. The concept of an autonomous management platform with interchangeable modules for the transport of goods or people can communicate through “digital shadowing” on the bodywork. For example, the shadow of a pedestrian will be contoured on the body if the 360 ​​° sensors have detected it in the immediate vicinity. Depending on this interaction, the pedestrian can be sure that he has been detected by the vehicle and can act accordingly.

Building on these innovations, Mercedes-Benz is now working on new solutions that provide passengers and pedestrians with the same information on vehicle perceptions and future actions. Passengers should also be able to decide what the vehicle is communicating to the environment. Thus, the car will become a safe, secure, passenger space.

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