Lyft has been granted a patent for a system to allow autonomous vehicles (AVs) to display messages and communicate to pedestrians, bikers and other drivers.
The proposed system — which may not come to fruition, but has been approved by the U.S. Patent Office — is meant to address a well-established problem with AVs: that "removing a driver from some vehicles can lead to uncertainty and miscommunication," as Lyft wrote in its filing. Cars that can communicate wirelessly with other AVs or connected infrastructure still may not be able to broadcast their intentions to other humans, creating a potential safety nightmare.
It’s a problem automakers are eager to address. Ford has public called for a “shared language” for AVs used across the industry. In a Medium post, Ford human factors technical specialist John Shutko wrote that it was "critical that the communications method we agree upon is as readily understandable as a brake light or turn signal indicator." Ford has experimented with a light bar mounted on a car’s windshield that flashed a series of signals to indicate that a car was yielding, actively driving or accelerating from a stop.
Another approach comes from startup Drive.ai, which has outfitted its fleets of autonomous shuttles with LED screens that display messages like “Waiting” or “Going” to pedestrians. That company is running pilots in Texas.
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