Self-driving cars promise to cut down on traffic and make our roads safer, but the way they'll interact with pedestrians isn't completely clear yet. In busy cities, drivers and pedestrians crossing the road are able to communicate with eye contact and body language – something a computer simply can't do. To try and solve the problem, a Swedish company has developed a car capable of flashing a smile at pedestrians.
According to the team at Semcon, eight out of ten pedestrians seek out eye contact with drivers before they cross a busy road. Unfortunately, when there's no driver in control, there's no way for people crossing the road to know if that car has seen them, and if it's going to stop.
The system aims to solve that problem by flashing a big smile at pedestrians when it's safe to cross. Although the team says the grille could be made to work using existing sensor technology, more advanced eye-tracking cameras and laser sensors could also be used to track pedestrian head movements, giving the system a better understanding of a person's intentions.
When it's not smiling at pedestrians, the system displays a neutral bar. In the press materials, the screen sits in place of the grille on a Mazda 6, but there's no mention of an affiliation with any particular manufacturer. There's also no word about whether the system will be able to branch out and display more information about the driver's mood, a'la Toyota Pod.
"The strength behind The Smiling Car is that we allow people to communicate in the way they are used to, instead of taking an unnecessary detour via technology," says Karin Eklund, Head of User Experience at Semcon.
Check the system out in the video below.