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Driverless Cars Might Follow the Rules of the Road, but What About the Language of Driving?

Driverless vehicles being tested by ride-sharing giant Uber.

The University of Pittsburgh's Abdesalam Soudi discusses the some of the challenges of helping driverless vehicles navigate the unspoken rules and social and linguistic cues of the rules of the road to communicate with drivers, pedestrians, and others.

Credit: Angelo Merendino/Agence France-Presse Getty Images

Navigating the complexity of unspoken rules and social and linguistic cues to communicate with drivers, pedestrians, and others sharing the road is a challenge for developers of driverless vehicles, writes the University of Pittsburgh's Abdesalam Soudi.

Soudi says these rules and protocols are all the more complicated given their variance by region or country. For example, autonomous automobiles programmed to recognize hand signals could still commit potentially disastrous errors because such signals vary widely from region to region and even person to person.

"It remains to be seen if the engineers working on driverless cars will be able to program these subtle--but important--differences into these vehicles as more and more appear on the roads," Soudi says.

He also notes these and similar issues raise the question of how much knowledge about human societal and linguistic values should be embedded within driverless cars. "How can driverless cars learn to interpret hand and auditory signals?" Soudi asks.

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