The mystery of a seemingly driverless Ford Transit Connect spotted last month on the streets of Arlington, Va., has been solved. It was an experiment by none other than Ford Motor Co.
When a TV news reporter approached the van, he realized it did have a driver — who was wearing a car-seat costume that made it appear as if the vehicle was fully autonomous.
Despite the reporter's memorable attempt to score an interview ("I'm with the news, dude," he pleaded through the window), the seat-man remained mute and drove off, even running a red light to get away.
Ford admitted last week that the stunt was orchestrated for a study in partnership with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. They were trying to determine the best ways for a driverless car to communicate with pedestrians and wanted to simulate an actual production car. So they outfitted the driver in the seat suit.
Their findings? Flashing light signals on the front of the van were the most effective way to communicate with pedestrians whether the vehicle is in autonomous drive mode, beginning to yield, or about to accelerate from a stop. They collected more than 150 hours of data, drove approximately 1,800 miles — and created one unique Halloween costume idea.