How will autonomous vehicles communicate with other road users?
In the UK, the government has said it wants driverless cars to be in use on the roads by 2021.
However, this technology will be introduced gradually rather than overnight. As a result, fully autonomous cars will be operating in mixed traffic where they share the road with other road users, says Volvo Cars.
In such a traffic situation, it will no longer be possible to make eye contact with the driver to learn about their intentions – a central element of today’s everyday traffic interaction.
To ensure a safe means of communication between fully autonomous cars and all other road users, the car maker is calling for a universally applicable safety standard.
At Volvo Cars, engineers working on its autonomous concept, the 360c, have addressed this challenge with a system comprising external sounds, colours, visuals and movements, as well as combinations of these tools, to communicate the vehicle’s intentions to other road users. The aim is to make it clear at all times what the car will do next.
Importantly, while the new system focuses on making the car indicate its own intentions, it will never issue directions or instructions to other road users.
“We strongly believe this communication method should be a universal standard, so all road users can communicate easily with any autonomous car, regardless of which maker built it,” explained Malin Ekholm, vice president at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “But it is also important that we do not instruct others what to do next, in order to avoid potential confusion. Our research shows this is the safest way for fully autonomous cars to communicate with other road users.”