‘Self-Driving Car’ Researchers Dress Up as Car Seats for Experiments

Scientists are disgusing themselves for their autonomous vehicle research.

August 13, 2017 5:00 am
The “ghost driver" seats worn by researchers to trick fellow drivers. (UCSD)
The “ghost driver" seats worn by researchers to trick fellow drivers. (UCSD)

That self-driving car may actually be human operated.

An “autonomous car” spotted driving around Virginia without a driver behind the wheel has turned out to have a driver: a researcher disguised car seat. The sighting first perplexed tech blogs, but the revelation prompted even more speculation about the secret technique.

According to The Guardian, tech writers noticed the car didn’t have a LIDAR array, unlike most self-driving cars, which was enough to baffle industry experts. There was also the question of the missing human overseer, a common safety assurance during autonomous vehicle tests.

The timing of the sighting seemed to make sense to industry experts since Virginia had just authorized self-driving cars to test in the state, The Guardian reports. For now, testing is limited to closed highways but will eventually be expanded to “light traffic conditions.”

NBC Washington report Adam Tuss tracked the notorious car down, tailed it around the city, and discovered the truth: a Virginia Tech researcher conducting a study on autonomous vehicles. The disguise was likely to observe driver reactions to sharing the road with a car that had no driver. According to the San Diego Tribune, researchers at the University of California San Diego and Stanford have done similar experiments in the past.

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