Watch: This car smiles at you – and it’s kind of creepy

September 16th, 2016

Cars are a moody bunch. How often do you see them smile? Like, never. Well, not until Swedish engineering firm Semcon's Smiling Car came along, that is. Yes, this car actually gives you a great big smile, but not to freak you out or because the car is happy (AI hasn't quite reached that stage, yet). It's actually a...

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Cars are a moody bunch. How often do you see them smile? Like, never. Well, not until Swedish engineering firm Semcon’s Smiling Car came along, that is.

Yes, this car actually gives you a great big smile, but not to freak you out or because the car is happy (AI hasn’t quite reached that stage, yet). It’s actually a safety measure for autonomous vehicles to let waiting pedestrians know that it’s ok to cross the road.

Semcon’s idea is effectively to humanise, just a little, a very non-human concept: cars without people (or with people that are, say, sleeping or blowing up balloons, as in the video above). Due to all their clever tech, self-driving cars will know to stop at junctions, traffic lights, etc, and wait for pedestrians to cross – but how do pedestrians know the car isn’t about to start up again?

That’s where the smile comes in. When a lit-up mouth appears – suddenly and out of nowhere, giving a face to a vehicle that didn’t have a face just seconds ago – that’s a sign to people that the car has stopped and is happily waiting for them to make their merry way across the road.

Will it increase people’s trust in autonomous vehicles? Or just creep them out. Hopefully the first, even if it takes a bit of the latter to get there.

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