From the outside, many driverless vehicles now on American roads look a lot like their conventional, human-driven counterparts.
But one self-driving vehicle being tested as part of a new pilot program in Texas is designed not to blend in but to stand out — and in a big way. Its bright orange exterior is emblazoned with the words “Self-Driving Vehicle,” and it features billboard-like LED displays that alert nearby motorists and pedestrians with heads-up messages like “going now, don’t cross” and “waiting for you.”
Drive.ai launched the six-month pilot program in Frisco, Texas, a fast-growing city of about 180,000 near Dallas. People in a small section of Frisco are able to use a smartphone app to hail the vehicles and ride them free along fixed routes, Dallas News reported. The cars are geo-fenced, meaning they are limited by onboard GPS gear from venturing outside the area.
Alex Epstein, director of transportation safety for the National Safety Council, likened the displays to the “student driver” signs that let road users know that “this vehicle may behave and will probably behave differently.”
He said the vans’ unusual design could help prevent collisions, though Drive.ai seems not to be taking unnecessary chances. Each of the vans has a safety driver who is supposed to take control in case of a problem, although the company plans to replace the drivers with front-seat chaperones who can explain the vehicles’ operation to passengers, according to a Drive.ai statement.