It may just be a matter of time before we turn over control of our cars to robot intelligence. But before we do, we may have to give each vehicle a voice, eyes, body language, and even an avatar. Such cars will be more user-friendly, researchers say from the MIT Media Lab, because they will be able to communicate their intent to the people around them. Are you crossing the road in front of a driverless car? The car could let you know it sees you by dilating it's LED ‘pupils’ and swiveling its headlights to follow you as you cross. Or it could project a smiley face on its wind screen. A car may be perfectly programmed to never hit a person no matter what, but how does a pedestrian know that the car sees him?
In a prototype presented today at the Media Lab's spring meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, researchers showed what such a car might look like. With working eye-headlights, micro-speakers designed to send narrowly focused audio messages to pedestrians and human drivers, and a Microsoft Kinect game sensor to detect when people pass in front of the car, the vehicle (pictured) bore a passing resemblance to a futuristic incarnation of a Volkswagen Beetle. Researchers admit that their bells and whistles are mostly just design suggestions for now. It will take a lot of testing to see what combination of sensors, lighting rigs and heads-up displays best lets people know what a robot car is going to do next.