Man in car seat costume tests response to driverless vehicles

Man in car seat costume tests response to driverless vehicles
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The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has launched a new effort to gauge real world reactions to driverless vehicles by disguising a human driver to look like a car seat.

After a silver van that appeared to be self-driving was spotted around Arlington, Va., last week, NBC Washington sent a reporter to investigate the issue.

But the reporter discovered that there was actually a man behind the wheel who was just dressed in a costume to make him look like the driver’s seat while he operated the vehicle.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute admitted on Monday that the invisible driver is part of a study to examine how people would react to seeing a driverless car on the streets. The purpose of the study, which will be made public, is to determine whether self-driving cars need additional exterior signals or if pedestrians and other drivers need to be better accommodated.

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The van was tested for several months to ensure that the camouflaged driver would still be able to safely monitor their surroundings while in disguise, the institute said.

The study comes as manufacturers are vowing to bring fully autonomous vehicles to market as soon as possible, while Congress is preparing to take major action at the federal to help speed up their deployment. But some have questioned whether the public is ready for such a dramatic change.

"If designed well, automated vehicles have considerable potential for reducing congestion, increasing safety, and providing new transportation solutions for people who currently cannot drive,” the institute said. “This study is one of many being conducted to determine how best to design automated vehicles.”