By on February 2, 2018

Here at TTAC, we sometimes offer up a story published by a sister publication after deciding it’s something worthy of your time. This piece, published by GMInsideNews, fits that bill. While the soulless autonomous future scares many of us, General Motors is working on a way to stop those driverless cars from plowing over each and every one of us. Read on.

General Motors continues to pour money and time into perfecting vehicle autonomy.

One of the integral themes of an autonomous driving future is communication. Vehicles will be required to rapidly and constantly talk to one another, relaying position, speed, and intent, with the same demands applying to our roadways and intersections — which will be expected to relay weather, traffic, and safety information in real time as vehicles approach.

Pedestrians, however, pose a unique problem. In busy cities, pedestrians and drivers routinely communicate nonverbally by making eye contact or gesticulating, but an autonomous vehicle doesn’t have that privilege. Its machine code is dependant on a series of binary questions it must ask itself in order to determine if the person is a threat, which — if affirmative — currently results in the car coming to a halt, which on occasion has caused a rear-end collision, or two.

Well, GM is working on a system in which autonomous vehicles will be capable of better understanding the motions of pedestrians by communicating with their Internet-connected devices, be it smart-phones, wearables, or perhaps even future advancements made towards transhumanism.

According to a patent application published on January 30, 2018, by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, GM is working on a vehicle-to-pedestrian communication system that will be able to determine a pedestrian’s presence and proximity based on the interface between the car and the device.

According to the document, the system aims to establish digital contact between the vehicle and pedestrian, focusing in particular on blind situations, where neither party is “aware” of the other’s presence.

For example, a pedestrian moving quickly toward the road from behind a visual impediment like a bus-stop, building, or even other pedestrians, may not see or hear the approaching vehicle, especially if they’re focused on their phone or using headphones. However, there’s also a rarer, albeit far more dangerous situation this system is hoping to avoid: the unsighted pedestrian on a rural road or the hard to see person standing on the side of a freeway.

After quickly running the location data through a path-prediction algorithm, GM’s proposed interface will then either alter the autonomous vehicle’s behavior, warn the pedestrian of the vehicle’s impending arrival, or, in emergency circumstances (like an impending autonomous vehicle crash), the pedestrian(s) could be warned to GTFO.

In some cases, the algorithm may simply determine that neither party can “see” each other, and in turn alert both to each other’s presence, without the need to take further action. Or, it could ask the pedestrian to wait before entering the intersection because the road is icy and the AV approaching might not be able to stop.

While much of the patent’s examples describe autonomous vehicles, the technology is not limited to use when an AV is being operated autonomously, pointing to the potential for the technology to debut before we reach full-on private autonomy.

[Images: General Motors, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office]

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12 Comments on “Hide and Seek: GM Seeks Patent for Vehicle-to-Pedestrian Communication...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    It’s gonna be like a bowling alley out there for a while. Hit the wino at just the right angle and he’ll take out the businessman on the other side, 7-10 split? No problem.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Not much use if the pedestrian isn’t carrying a cell phone. Mine spends most of its time at home.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You’re the rare exception. Most people who step in front of my car are staring at their phones, almost unaware they’re in traffic. I use the simpler, more effective auto-to-pedestrian communications device: I honk the horn.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Not a problem. We will simply program the computer to HONK the horn whenever a pedestrian is detected. Also, it will emit a powerful spread-spectrum RF blast, which will immediately SKRAWWWWWK in the ears of anyone wearing Beats by Dre (TM), Apple earbuds, or other earphone devices. The only problem we haven’t yet solved is the earmuff.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    I mean, I was born fairly recently (’91) and technically I’m a millennial, but somehow I learned that it’s a good idea to look both ways before crossing the domain of the 4,000lb steel brick that can travel faster than anything with a heartbeat can move. I don’t see a problem with letting people choose to walk in front of traffic without looking, besides the lawyers.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    Well, this isn’t rocket science. It’s called a “speaker” on the outside of the car.

    “WARNING! Driver is busy playing Candy Crush! Cross at your own risk!”

  • avatar
    dal20402

    “In busy cities, pedestrians and drivers routinely communicate nonverbally by making eye contact or gesticulating, but an autonomous vehicle doesn’t have that privilege.”

    Or, trickier yet, communicating by not communicating. Any experienced city pedestrian knows that if you make eye contact with most drivers they take that as a license to blow past you when they are legally required to stop. The only way to get most drivers to stop for you is to pretend artfully that you have no idea they’re there. That’s a challenging behavior to teach a computer about.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    My UFO enthusiast friends tell me that the technology to biologically and non verbally communicate electronically with humans already exists in the form of rectal probes. All GM needs to do is to hack into the code that activates the electric shock function of said probe if an autonomous vehicle detects a human about to step in front of it.


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