Check out what this poor guy had to do in the name of driverless-car research

Driving around the streets all day disguised as a car seat won’t be everyone’s idea of the perfect job, but if it’s in the interest of scientific research then some people may be persuaded.

A researcher from Virginia Tech was recently tasked with driving around Arlington, Virginia in an outfit that made him look like a car seat, apparently so that his team could gather data on people’s reactions to driverless vehicles.

In one of the weirdest stories yet to come out of the world of self-driving car development, Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute sent the researcher out in attire most likely cobbled together by the research team itself. Possibly after Friday-night drinks.

Pushed back into the driver’s seat and holding the steering wheel at the bottom, the vehicle looked to anyone who glimpsed it as if no one was driving.

Indeed, in one of several videos posted online showing the car driving along the street, you can hear someone comment, “Is that a self-driving car?”

Adding to bystanders’ confusion was that there appeared to be no one whatsoever inside the car, kind of odd considering that all self-driving vehicles tested on public roads require at least one engineer to be inside, ready to intervene should the car suddenly decide to do something it really shouldn’t.

Also, the vehicle didn’t even have any of the extras you’d associate with a self-driving car, for example the lidar contraption you see on the top of autonomous vehicles that help them make sense of their surroundings.

NBC Washington’s Adam Tuss managed to catch up with Virginia Tech’s mysterious vehicle at an intersection and shoot a short video that he posted on Twitter. “This is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen,” Tuss wrote alongside the video, which shows a pair of arms sticking out of the bottom of a (kind of ) car seat.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute declined to go into details, but this week admitted that the bizarre exercise was geared toward driverless-car research, adding: “The driver’s seating area is configured to make the driver less visible within the vehicle, while still allowing him or her the ability to safely monitor and respond to surroundings.”

With autonomous vehicles still an extremely rare sight on our roads, many companies developing the tech are keen to learn more about how people — especially human drivers — respond to and interact with the vehicles when they come across them on the streets, as this may influence how the technology is eventually introduced.

We just hope the Virginia Tech team managed to gather some useful information about how people react to autonomous cars, although it seems likely they ended up with a lot more data on how people respond to people dressed up as car seats.


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