Jaguar Land Rover Eye Pod

Jaguar Land Rover fits ‘virtual eyes’ to self-driving vehicle to test public trust

Image credit: Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is fitting ‘virtual eyes’ to its intelligent pod test vehicles to help it better understand the levels of trust humans feel for self-driving vehicles.

A recent study by the American Automobile Association showed that 63 per cent of adults in the US would actually feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle while walking or cycling than they do now.

With autonomous vehicles destined to appear on our roads in increasing numbers in the coming years, technology and automotive companies have realised that they have to address the social issues caused by the interaction between humans and robot cars.

Accordingly, JLR has designed self-driving pods with large cartoonish ‘virtual eyes’ (dubbed ‘eye pods’, boom boom) to convey more obvious interaction with other road users, particularly pedestrians, and to signal the vehicle's intent.

The point of the exercise is to establish how much information self-driving cars need to share with human road users to ensure that people trust and are comfortable with the technology.

As part of the engineering project, JLR has enlisted the help of a team of cognitive psychologists to understand how vehicle behaviour affects human confidence in new technology. The trust trials form part of JLR’s government-supported UK Autodrive project.

The autonomous pods are running on a fabricated street scene in Coventry, with the behaviour of pedestrians analysed as they wait to cross the road. The ‘eyes’ were devised by a team of advanced engineers, working in Jaguar Land Rover’s Future Mobility division. The pods seek out the pedestrian - appearing to ‘look’ directly at them – signalling to road users that it has identified them and intends to take avoiding action.    

Engineers record trust levels in the person before and after the pod makes ‘eye contact’ to find out whether it generates sufficient confidence that it would stop for them.

“It’s second-nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road. Understanding how this translates in tomorrow’s more automated world is important. We want to know if it is beneficial to provide humans with information about a vehicle’s intentions or whether simply letting a pedestrian know it has been recognised is enough to improve confidence,” said Pete Bennett, Future Mobility research manager at JLR.

The trials are part of a wider study exploring how future connected and autonomous vehicles can replicate human behaviour and reactions when driving. As part of the study, more than 500 test subjects have been studied interacting with the self-driving pods, designed by UK Autodrive partner Aurrigo. Alongside the trust issues, there will also be an adjustment for some people in accepting a machine exhibiting humanistic behaviours.

Technophobia has a long history, from the Luddites destroying weaving machines in woollen and cotton mills in the early 19th century to concerns over the societal impact of objects as diverse as the telephone and the bicycle in the 20th century. With the fourth industrial revolution poised to introduce myriad digital solutions, autonomous robot-controlled devices are a new focus for any latent techno fears in the world’s population. The more forward-thinking companies are taking steps to assuage these fears today, in order to avoid public rejection of the new technology tomorrow.

Watch the Jaguar Land Rover eye pods in action.

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