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JLR’s self-driving pod has lost its eyes and grown projectors

Scared of robots? JLR hopes a series of lights will help you cross the road in the future

Us puny humans find it hard to trust robots. Well, apart from WALL-E and R2D2, we like them. But Jaguar Land Rover boffins have identified that nearly half of drivers and pedestrians are worried about a future of sharing the road with self-driving vehicles. Which, given the progress of autonomous vehicles is somewhat of an inevitability, isn’t overly positive news. But to try and ease the public’s anxiety, JLR has been trialling a few options to make the robots seem a bit cuddlier and friendly.

You may remember at the end of last year a team of advanced engineers – working in Jaguar Land Rover’s Future Mobility division – stuck a set of slightly sad googly eyes to the front of an autonomous pod to seek out pedestrians. The pod would then ‘look’ directly at them in order to signal to road users that it has identified them and intends to take avoiding action. But now they’ve binned the eyes in favour of a series of lights that project the pod’s direction of travel onto the road ahead (a bit like a Boris Bike at night), to tell other road users what it is going to do next.

A variety of projections display the pod’s next step. For instance, it’ll show when the vehicle is preparing to stop, pull away or turn by a set of lines where the gaps between each will shorten as the pod is braking, widen if accelerating and fan out in a certain direction if it’s preparing to turn. A good idea at night, but illuminations don’t tend to work that well during the day. We’re not sure if JLR has thought of that…

“Just like any new technology, humans have to learn to trust it,” Pete Bennett, future mobility research manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said. “When it comes to autonomous vehicles, pedestrians must have confidence they can cross the road safely. This pioneering research is forming the basis of ongoing development into how self-driving cars will interact with people in the future.”

If this is the future, it looks like we’ll have to all turn nocturnal to make sure the lights can be seen while crossing the road. Or, just become comfortable with getting run over during the day. Either way, yay future!

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