As weird as they look, these virtual eyes could be important in advancing autonomous driving technology

Jaguar Land Rover has come up with a self-driving pod that can mimic eye contact that’s normally made between a driver and a pedestrian who’s about to cross a street. The self-driving pod even has “virtual eyes” that can literally “look” at a pedestrian who’s waiting to cross. The “look” is meant as a signal that the pod has identified the presence of a pedestrian and intends to stop for them so they can cross the street. The pod is part of JLR’s U.K. government-supported Autodrive project.

The technology could be a big step towards enhancing the safety parameters between an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian. "It’s second nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road, JLR’s future mobility research manager, Pete Bennett, said. “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 recognized is enough to improve confidence."

Apart from “looking” at a pedestrian waiting to use a pedestrian lane, engineers from JLR and a team of cognitive psychologists also record the person’s trust levels before and after the “eye contact.”

Their goal is to find out whether the technology makes drivers confident that the car will stop for them when a pedestrian is about to cross.

Jaguar Puts Eyes on Autonomous Pods and It's Pretty Creepy
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It’s a fascinating subset of what has become a huge scientific study on the effects of autonomous driving technology, particularly when it comes to the relationships between pedestrians and autonomous driving vehicles. It also ties into the suggestion that, according to research studies, 63 percent of pedestrians are concerned about the potential difficulties of crossing roads with driverless cars around. This is a field that needs more research and discussion. Good on JLR’s part that it’s doing that exactly.

That’s not to say, though, that those googly eyes don’t look creepy, if not downright nightmare-inducing.

The bagel-sized eyes are scary enough on their own. But does JLR really have to design them with actual eyelids and irises?

Even if the technology does its part in enhancing the safety of a pedestrian and the driver of an autonomous vehicle, what’s stopping them from seeking therapy after encountering these eyes that look to have the capacity to stare right into your soul?

Good thing they don’t have eyelashes.

Further reading

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