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Mercedes 'Co-operative Car' concept showcases car-to-pedestrian communication

New Mercedes 'Co-operative Car' development vehicle is equipped with lights and sensors, enabling subtle co-operation with pedestrians

Mercedes Benz has showcased a new development vehicle, which is currently using to study how pedestrians interact with and react to highly automated cars. 

Called the Co-operative Car, it’s a modified and highly automated S-Class saloon equipped with a new suite of sensors, lighting strips and directional speakers. Cars like this are currently being used in Daimler and Bosch’s Automated Valet Parking project in Stuttgart, but the Co-operative Car takes things a step further, with several additions allowing it to communicate with those on foot. 

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Mercedes says its latest research shows that pedestrians are far more comfortable around autonomous vehicles when such cars are clearly marked out. However, vehicles with no driver behind the wheel at all could pose a particular challenge if they become a reality in the future. 

With no one in the driver’s seat to lock eyes with, pedestrians will need a new way to develop trust with traffic. That’s where the suite of lights equipped on the Co-operative car come into play.

A turquoise aura signals that the vehicle is driving autonomously. Mercedes picked this colour as it currently isn’t used on the road in a conventional capacity. For instance, dark blue would clash with emergency service vehicles, red would clash with traffic lights, and yellow would clash with indicators. It’s a neutral colour, one the brand thinks is best suited for its new car-to-pedestrian language and one it hopes will become the industry standard for all autonomous vehicles equipped with similar signals.

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On top of the Co-operative Car sits an array of turquoise LED strips, with a rounded strip sitting in each corner of the roof. The adaptive LED strips use sensors to monitor pedestrian activity, and form two crude sets of eyes – a pair at the front and a pair at the rear.

The ‘pupils’ of the eyes can track and follow those stood around the vehicle, allowing pedestrians to know that the Co-operative car has spotted them. They can issue non-verbal instructions or suggestions too, such rolling or nudging in a certain direction to tell pedestrians it is safe for them to cross the road.

The car can detect human faces too. If it notices that a pedestrian hasn’t noticed the Co-operative Car, it can use a directional speaker to channel a subtle audio nudge right at them.

Two more lighting strips are placed at the top of the windscreen and the rear window. These pulsate, the rate decreasing if the car is slowing down, and increasing if the car is accelerating. Constant rapid flashing of the turquoise lights indicates that the Co-operative Car is about to move.

A ‘wake-up’ procedure using the standard fit air-suspension sees the whole car essentially rise from its slumber. Like the turquoise eyes, Mercedes says it makes the car resemble a living object, allowing humans to understand the vehicle far more intuitively.

Speaking to Auto Express, Daimler futurologist Alexander Mankowsky said that developing a common language for car-to-pedestrian interaction is the next big challenge for companies developing autonomous vehicles.

“The discussions about the basics [among manufacturers] have already begun. Broader ideas, such as the wake up procedure, could be open to negotiation in the next five to six years”, he explained.

Read our full in-depth review of the Mercedes S-Class here...

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