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Scientific Oddity: Japanese researchers testing motorized eyes to aid AV-pedestrian safety

Tokyo, Japan — Bodywork meets arts and crafts with the University of Tokyo’s latest project: researchers from the university have developed a cutting-edge pair of motorized eyes for autonomous vehicles, intended to help alert pedestrians to whether they’ve been seen by the vehicle.

Unlike today’s vehicles, future AVs may not have human drivers, and will therefore need to be equipped with the ability to telegraph “driver” intent to pedestrians.

Researchers tested the following scenario 40 times in a virtual reality setup: an AV would approach a pedestrian crosswalk, some were configured to wait for the pedestrian, some were configured to just drive through. Half of these tests used googly eyes; half without.

Two groups of pedestrians, nine male and nine female were then asked to decide whether it was safe to cross the road in the virtual reality environment. Crossing the street in front of a real AV is not required, even in the name of science.

While some participants felt the robot eyes were cute and reassuring, others thought they were creepy and scary. (University of Tokyo/Chang et al.)

These eyes effectively telegraph the AI driver’s intent, in a way that a human driver’s gaze would.

By the end of the scenario, it was found that the googly eyes helped male pedestrians make fewer dangerous road crossings. In contrast, fewer female pedestrians chose to wait for a car that intended to stop. In both cases, the experiment demonstrated that googly eyes on AVs resulted in smoother and safer crossings for pedestrians and vehicles alike.

For the university’s press release, click here. For the original published study, click here.

What do you think about googly eyes on AVs? Do they help pedestrians or is it just another component waiting for repair? Let us know in the comments below!

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