If adding eyes to self-driving cars’ reduce accidents?

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Self-driving cars has a recent study at the University of Tokyo suggests that robotic eyes on autonomous vehicles could increase pedestrian safety. In virtual reality (VR) games, participants had to choose whether or not to cross a road in front of a moving vehicle. The participants were able to make safer or more effective decisions when the vehicle was equipped with robotic eyes that either stared at the pedestrian (registering their existence) or away (not registering them).

Autonomous vehicles appear to be coming soon. 

A lot of study is being done to bring a once-futuristic idea to life, whether they will be used for package delivery, preparing fields for planting, or transporting children to school.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have focused on a more “human” concern of self-driving technology, whereas the practical aspects of building vehicles that can independently navigate the world are the main focus for many. 

“The interactions of self-driving automobiles with nearby people, such as pedestrians, have not received adequate research. 

So, in order to provide society with safety and assurance regarding self-driving automobiles, additional research and effort into such interaction is required “the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology’s Professor Takeo Igarashi remarked

One significant distinction with self-driving cars is that either no one is behind the wheel at all or the driver may become more of a passenger and not pay full attention to the road. This makes it challenging for pedestrians to determine whether a car has noticed them or not because there may not be any eye contact or other cues from those inside.

So how might pedestrians be alerted when a self-driving car sees them and is going to stop? A self-driving golf cart was outfitted with two sizable, remote-controlled robotic eyes, just like a character from the Pixar film Cars. The “gazing automobile” was what the researchers called it. In this scenario, they were testing whether individuals would still cross the road in front of a moving vehicle when pressed for time if moving eyes were placed on the cart.

The group created two situations with the cart having eyes and two without. Either the cart had seen the pedestrian and was going to halt, or it had not seen them and was continuing to go. When the cart had eyes, they would either be staring at the pedestrian and about to halt or they would be looking somewhere else (not going to stop).

Since it would be obviously dangerous to ask participants to decide whether or not to walk in front of a moving vehicle in real life (though there was a hidden driver for this experiment), the team recorded the scenarios using 360-degree video cameras, and the 18 participants (nine women and nine men, aged 18 to 49, all Japanese) experienced the experiment in virtual reality. They were given three seconds each time to select whether or not they would cross the road in front of the cart after going through the situations many times in a random order. When they crossed or stopped when they could have crossed, the researchers recorded their decisions and calculated the error rates of those choices they ought to have waited when.

Project Lecturer Chia-Ming Chang, a part of the research team, said that the findings “indicated a clear disparity between genders, which was really surprising and unexpected.” Although age and background may also have had an impact on the participants’ reactions, we think this is a crucial point because it demonstrates that different road users may have different needs and behaviors, necessitating the need for various communication methods in the self-driving world of the future.

“The male participants in this study frequently made risky road-crossing decisions (i.e., decided to cross while the car was not stopping), but these mistakes were curbed by the cart’s stare. In terms of safe circumstances for them, such as selecting to cross when the car was about to stop, there was little difference “Chang explained it.

“The eye contact from the cart, on the other hand, helped the female participants make less bad decisions (like deciding not to cross when the car was going to stop). There was little difference in their dangerous circumstances, though.” In the end, the trial demonstrated that the eyeballs made everyone’s crossing easier or safer.

But how did the individuals feel after seeing the eyes? While some people found them to be cute, others found them to be spooky or frightening. Many of the male participants said they felt the situation was more dangerous when the eyes were turned away. Many of the female participants reported feeling safer when the eyes glanced at them.

“In this particular study, we concentrated on eye movement but did not pay too much attention to visual design. Due to financial restrictions, we only constructed the simplest one possible. Igarashi explained this decision. It would be preferable in the future to have a qualified product designer select the best design, although it would probably still be challenging to please everyone.Personally, I enjoy it. It’s kind of adorable.

The researchers is aware that the small number of participants acting out just one scenario limits this study. Additionally, it’s probable that decisions made in virtual reality differ from those made in the actual world. However, “It is a significant transition to switch from manual to automatic driving. We should give additional eyeballs considerable consideration if they can truly improve safety and lower traffic accidents. We hope to create automatic control for the robotic eyes connected to self-driving AI in the future (as opposed to manual control), which could adapt to various conditions “Igarashi remarked. “I hope that this research inspires other organizations to test out related concepts, anything that enables improved interaction between autonomous vehicles and pedestrians, which ultimately saves lives.”

The research was released in the 14th International Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicular Applications Proceedings.

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