Small nods to pedestrians, waves for polite drivers and high-beam flashes to warn of impending speed cameras are all part of the fabric making our road system work. They're also beyond reach for cars without an empathetic human behind the wheel.
To help self-driving pods better communicate with the world around them, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has turned to a set of (terrifying) virtual eyes.
Created by a team in the JLR Future Mobility division, the eyes seek out pedestrians and then stare directly at them, as a signal they've been noticed. The car will then attempt to take avoiding action, either by stopping or adjusting its line. Think of it as the autonomous equivalent of a wave or nod.
"It's second-nature to glance at the driver of the approaching vehicle before stepping into the road. Understanding how this translates in tomorrow's more automated world is important," said Pete Bennett, future mobility research manager at JLR.
"We want to know if it is beneficial to provide humans with information about a vehicle's intentions or whether simply letting a pedestrian know it has been recognised is enough to improve confidence."
Previous studies quoted by Jaguar Land Rover suggest 63 per cent of pedestrians are concerned about crossing the road with self-driving cars on the road. To see if the eyes help, engineers record trust levels in pedestrians after crossing ahead of the pod.
More than 500 people have interacted with the pods at Aurrigo's facility, one of JLR's partners as part of the UK Autodrive autonomous driving project.