Automated vehicles and you: how we’re helping fund ideas of the future

Automated vehicles and you: how we’re helping fund ideas of the future

Have you ever thought about your relationship with self-driving cars? As a pedestrian would you behave differently when crossing a road if you knew the vehicle stopping for you didn’t have a human driver?

That’s exactly what one UBC study at the Department of Civil Engineering and School of Community and Regional Planning is asking. They’re studying how pedestrians and automated vehicles interact in the real world.

Dr. Alex Bigazzi is leading the study, he says the goal is to determine whether road-users trust human drivers or automated vehicles more. He explained the study is a vital piece of the puzzle that Transport 2050 set forth:

“A key part of integrating autonomous vehicles is to ensure that all the work we’re doing to increase walkability, livability, and positive streetscapes aren’t counteracted by fears of pedestrians interacting with autonomous vehicles,” said Bigazzi.

Overcoming biases

Bigazzi says there are two major biases at play that tend to influence road users when interacting with driverless vehicles. The first is a lack of communication that currently exists between vehicles without a driver and a pedestrian.

“Research shows that a key part of pedestrians feeling comfortable is making eye contact with the driver or the cyclist, the key is being seen, recognizing each other,” he explained.

The other major bias works in the opposite direction. Some people who are more inclined to adapt quickly to technology actually have more trust in an automated vehicle, despite the lack of communication. Computers don’t get distracted, computers don’t get angry on the roadways, they perform consistently. All of these factors can help human-proof the driving process.

There are ways to assist in the communication between pedestrians and automated vehicles, some studies have tested the effectiveness of additional lights on the front of vehicles that are triggered when pedestrians are detected. Other studies, such as one from British car manufacturer Jaguar, are testing the effectiveness of fake eyes on their vehicles. Though somewhat goofy, automated vehicles acknowledging pedestrians and other road users could be crucial to the future of driverless vehicles.

Right now, the study has a survey to help gauge these biases, you can take it here. It’s only about 15 minutes and it’s a great way to measure your own biases around automated vehicles.

The New Mobility Research Grant Program

Dr. Bigazzi’s study is just one of many funded by TransLink. Through TransLink Tomorrow, the New Mobility Research Grant Program was created. A program dedicated to funding research that can help guide us into the future as we modernize transportation through innovation. The program provides research grants of up to $50,000 to well-defined projects undertaken by Canadian post-secondary researchers and their partners. Research that ties into TransLink Tomorrow’s goals, such as this automated vehicles interactions study, are eligible to receive these grants.

TransLink Tomorrow is our commitment to continuously explore, test, and implement innovative ways to improve mobility in Metro Vancouver. Its goals are set not to future-proof our transit system per se, instead, they’re set to create the future that we want and need. The goals are as follows:

  • Enable seamless and efficient door-to-door mobility for people and goods
  • Promote safe, healthy, clean, and compact communities
  • Ensure affordable and equitable access for all

As you can see, research into automated vehicles could be vital to achieving these objectives. Automated vehicles could be the answer to persistent safety issues that have been tied to personal vehicles since their invention. Likewise, they could be the great equalizer in providing true mobile freedom for those who can’t drive, or have accessibility requirements.

The New Mobility Research Grant Program is funding a wide array of studies that will one day help shape transportation. For a full overview of active studies read our New Mobility Compendium.