That wasn’t a driver­less car driv­ing around Washington

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - NATHAN BOMEY USA To­day

Peo­ple were sur­prised re­cently to see a van motoring around the Washington, D.C. area without a driver.

That’s what it looked like. But the seem­ingly driver­less ve­hi­cle ac­tu­ally had a dis­guised driver be­hind the wheel and was part of an ex­per­i­ment into how peo­ple will re­act to self-driv­ing cars.

Af­ter a Ford Tran­sit van with no ap­par­ent driver was spot­ted whisk­ing around the ur­ban streets of Ar­ling­ton, Va., in re­cent days, the Virginia Tech Trans­porta­tion In­sti­tute dis­closed that the project was part of a study on how peo­ple will re­act to the tech­nol­ogy.

The goal is to learn how au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles should be de­signed to pro­tect pedes­tri­ans.

As it turns out, the re­searchers had a per­son be­hind the wheel dis­guised as part of the car seat. “This study is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the po­ten­tial need for ad­di­tional ex­te­rior sig­nals on au­to­mated ve­hi­cles,” VTTI said. The “re­search is rel­e­vant for en­sur­ing pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists, and other drivers are ac­com­mo­dated.”

Video cap­tured by a NBC re­porter showed the hid­den driver tucked par­tially be­hind the seat, which helped con­ceal the per­son from pedes­tri­ans and other drivers.

Although self-driv­ing car tests are com­mon in many states, the ve­hi­cles are still re­quired to have some­one be­hind the wheel or ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing the ve­hi­cle safely if in­ter­ven­tion is re­quired.

Though Virginia of­fi­cials ap­par­ently did not know about the study ahead of time, it’s un­likely that per­mits were re­quired since the Tran­sit’s self-driv­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties were an il­lu­sion.

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