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Would you feel safer walking across a road if you could stop a driverless car with your hand?
That’s the idea behind a new system developed by university researchers, which lets pedestrians signal the car to either stop or continue driving using their hand.
Blink, developed by a team at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, uses an LED display and sensors to detect a pedestrian nearby.
Lights show pedestrians when the car is aware of their presence. If the car’s sensors detect a pedestrian nearby, a figure lights up that mirrors their movements, accompanied by a bleep.
The figure turns green if a pedestrian raises their hand as a stop sign and the car is prevented from moving forward.
The figure turns red if they place a hand out to the side to motion the car forward and the car can continue.
The researchers believe the system could have an impact on the safety of driverless cars in cities.
The idea was conceived to help people feel more comfortable around driverless cars, according to Blink co-creator Raunaq Bose
But George Filip at the University of Nottingham told the New Scientist that cities could end up gridlocked if pedestrians keep stopping cars from moving.
“Manufacturers should wait until the novelty of driverless cars has worn off before they start creating car-pedestrian communications systems, he said. “We need to learn how people actually interact with autonomous vehicles.”
Google has applied for a number of pedestrian-driverless car communication patents.
In 2015 it was granted a patent for screens on the outside of driverless cars that display text and road signs. They include a speaker that would announce to pedestrians whether the car was coming through or if it was safe to cross the road.
It was also granted a patent which would enable driverless cars to detect and respond to cyclists’ hand signals.
The Blink device is still to be tested on a driverless car, but several car companies have expressed an interest in it according to the research team.