Self-driving cars have been hitting the streets of various cities in the US for testing over the last few years. However, in Texas, the autonomous cars that are now gracing the roads are very different from anything we have seen so far. Traditionally, self-driving cars that have been tested by Waymo and Cruise Automation have all been white in color. But the ones in Texas are brightly orange with a small wavy blue stripe in the middle.
Also, these cars have four LED screens which are quite uncommon in self-driving vehicles. One screen is located on the hood while two others are above each of the front tires and another one is on the rear. The screens are used to display messages to pedestrians and other people who may be close to the cars. The new self-driving vehicles are owned by Drive.ai. The company had earlier announced a plan to offer a limited ride-hailing pilot program in Texas. The pilot will largely be available in the outskirts of Dallas within the suburb of Frisco.
Drive.ai says that the vehicles are designed deliberately with bright orange so they can look different compared to other cars. The cars are also dorky and somewhat louder compared to the normal self-driving cars. But the most bizarre feature are the screens on the body of the car. The screens are designed to play a very important role. When the cars are on a ride-hailing trip, the screens will display important information to pedestrians.
Drive.ai is calling this “human-Robot interaction.” The aim here is to use the screens to convey the verbal communications that would normally be conveyed by a human driver. There are about six overall messages that you will see on these screens. The first one is “waiting.” This message is shown on the front and on the side screens. There will also be a “crossing” message which will appear on the rear screen. This will happen when the car has stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the road.
The other message is “going.” This one will be displayed on the front and side screens too. The message will be displayed as the vehicle starts to slowly move from a stationary position. You will also be able to see “entering/exiting” on the screens. This message will appear on both the front and side displays. The message will indicate when a person is entering or exiting the car. Finally, there will be “human driver.” This will be shown on all screens when the car is in full manual mode.
The initial plan by Driver.ai was to add a few emojis on the displays. However, this idea was scrapped for the pilot. The company will be performing full driverless tests for the cars in Texas in close correspondence with local officials. At the beginning of these tests, a safety driver will be present in each of the vehicles but the plan is to phase out the human factor by the end of the pilot. Drive.ai is the latest ride-hailing experiment for self-driving cars, and there are only a handful of companies that are doing this at the moment.