The University of Tokyo gazing car

University of Tokyo ‘gazing’ self-driving car aims to improve pedestrian safety.

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Tokyo uni studies eye cue for self-driving cars

New research by a team at The University of Tokyo indicates that fitting robotic eyes to self-driving vehicles could improve pedestrian safety.

The images below show first-person views of an experiment conducted using virtual reality (VR), with participants deciding whether or not the cart had noticed them. The researchers called it the ‘gazing car’.

Toyko uni scenarios on giving eyes to self-driving cars
Toyko uni scenarios on giving eyes to self-driving cars

The team set up four scenarios – two where the cart had eyes and two without. Was the eyeless cart intending to stop? How did results change when the cart had eyes, either looking towards the pedestrian or looking away?

University of Tokyo gazing car video

The study was small: only 18 participants – nine women and nine men, all aged 18-49, all Japanese – but there did seem to be differences in reaction according to gender.

Self-driving gender differences

More male participants reported “feeling that the situation was more dangerous” when the eyes were looking away. While more female participants said they “felt safer” when the eyes were looking at them.

Project Lecturer Chia-Ming Chang, a member of the research team, commented: “The results suggested a clear difference between genders, which was very surprising and unexpected.

“While other factors like age and background might have also influenced the participants’ reactions, we believe this is an important point. It shows that different road users may have different behaviours and needs that require different communication.”

Self-driving communication

Professor Takeo Igarashi, from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, added: “There is not enough investigation into the interaction between self-driving cars and the people around them.

“Moving from manual driving to auto driving is a huge change. If eyes can actually contribute to safety and reduce traffic accidents, we should seriously consider adding them.

“I hope this research encourages other groups to try similar ideas. Anything that facilitates better interaction between self-driving cars and pedestrians, which ultimately saves people’s lives.”

Here at Cars of the Future we have, of course, explored similar concepts before. Notably, in our interview with Yosuke Ushigome, Director at design innovation studio Takram.

For further info on The University of Tokyo study, see the team’s project page

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Author: Neil Kennett

Neil is MD of Featurebank Ltd. He launched in 2019.