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Why Are ­csd Scientists Disguising Themselves as Empty Car Seats?

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A driver disguised as an empty car seat.

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have been disguising themselves as empty car seats to study how other motorists and pedestrians react to the sight of driverless research vehicles tooling around campus.


Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are observing driver and pedestrian responses to "driverless" research vehicles on campus by wearing costumes resembling empty car seats.

UCSD professor Jim Hollan says road users' interaction with driverless cars is a complicated research issue, and "just as important is how autonomous cars communicate their intent to other road users as well as to passengers."

Hollan, who received the 2015 award for Lifetime Achievement in Research from ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), also notes achieving an appropriate level of trust--not too much or too little--is as important as communication. "We have recommended...that cars should signal their intention," says Don Norman, director of UCSD's Design Lab.

The campus experiment found many people did not notice the cars with the disguised scientists aboard, which Norman attributes to students "just walk[ing] without looking, while reading their cell-phones."

However, Norman acknowledges people in non-campus environments would have different reactions, and determining those reactions is the goal of further research.

From The San Diego Union Tribune
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