Communication with Robot Cars 2015

Leading carmakers and manufacturers of high technology agree that autonomous vehicles will be common, everyday phenomena on our streets and highways in a few years. Be that as it may, implementation of the corresponding technical and legal framework conditions still poses a tremendous challenge. Equally important will be the process of creating trust on the part of future users of such technology. Indispensible to this is a good basis of communication, a well-functioning vocabulary for human-machine interaction.

Frühe Skizze zur Gesteninteraktion mit einem Roboterauto. Credit: Mercedes-Benz:
Frühe Skizze zur Gesteninteraktion mit einem Roboterauto. Credit: Mercedes-Benz


Since 2013, the Ars Electronica Futurelab has been working together with Mercedes-Benz on the question of how we human beings will be able to communicate with the smart self-driving cars of tomorrow. Here, the primary focus is on the futuristic vision of a shared space, a transportation zone used by humans and machines in which there are no longer defined lanes for cars or pedestrians and, instead, mutual courtesy of the road are the watchwords among equally privileged users. In order for this traffic partnership to function properly and not lead to perceived insecurity or even dangerous situations, such a shared space has to be governed by social rules and accommodate new forms of interaction: on one hand, how people deal with cars; on the other hand, how cars deal with people.

Do we want to interact with robotic autos in a verbal language, via gestures, through the mediation of objects, or in some other way—for instance, when we spontaneously summon them or assign them the task of parking themselves? And how will these smart vehicles, in turn, get in contact with us? This is ultimately a matter of developing a bidirectional repertoire of signs for use by people and autos that’s characterized by utmost clarity and comprehensibility. In the future, every child has to be able to instantaneously ascertain whether an approaching vehicle is being steered manually or running on autopilot, and whether he/she has been recognized as a human pedestrian and, thus, can safely cross the street.


Der F015, das autonome Forschungsfahrzeug von Mercedes-Benz, kam 2015 am Hauptplatz von Linz vorbei. Credit: Florian Voggeneder)
Der F015, das autonome Forschungsfahrzeug von Mercedes-Benz, kam 2015 am Hauptplatz von Linz vorbei. Credit: Florian Voggeneder


As an initial approach to this complex of issues in 2014, Mercedes-Benz staged Future Talk RoboticsFuture Talk Robotics, a conference conceived jointly with the Ars Electronica Futurelab. The Ars Electronica Futurelab, for its part, also developed Shared Space Spaxels and Shared Space Bots, two interactive proving grounds to test futuristic facts & circumstances today: simulation of robotic mobility scenarios and evaluation of specific approaches to interaction.


Main Collaborators:

Ars Electronica Futurelab: Roland Haring, Christopher Lindinger, Martina Mara

Mercedes-Benz: Sabine Engelhardt, Irene Fuhrmann, Koert Groeneveld,Alexander Mankowsky, Vera Schmidt