What If Driverless Cars Let You Cross The Street When You Wave At Them?

That’s the idea behind Blink–a new “language” for autonomous vehicles that would teach them to recognize and respond to pedestrian hand signals.

Crossing a busy street might be easier in a driverless future. In Blink, a new concept designed for driverless cars, when you want to cross–and you’re not at a crosswalk–you can hold up your hand, and the car will stop and light up with a green walk signal on the windshield and rear window. If you don’t want to cross, you can wave the car ahead, and it will signal that it understands.


“With Blink, we are essentially aiming to develop a language of trust with autonomous vehicles,” Raunaq Bose, one of a group of four researchers at Imperial College London and Royal College of Art who developed the design, tells Co.Exist.

The technology responds to gestures using machine learning. While the team has so far trained it to recognize a hand gesturing to stop or keep moving, the system is also designed to continue learning hundreds of other culture-specific gestures.

The team was interested in making the urban environment a more comfortable place to live, and realized that autonomous cars could use some tweaking. “We think that a lot of attention has been put on the inner features and passenger experience of autonomous vehicle concepts, and that not enough consideration has gone into how people outside the vehicle feel when interacting with these autonomous vehicles,” Bose says.

While some autonomous car concepts signal to pedestrians that it’s safe to cross (one, for example, smiles at pedestrians as it stops), this design allows for two-way communication–and gives pedestrians more power. A raised hand doesn’t always stop the car–if it can’t safely brake in time, it won’t. But on roads designed to favor cars, it helps give pedestrians a voice.

“We believe that while infrastructure exists to balance the power between pedestrians and vehicles, much of the current infrastructure was built around the needs of the vehicle,” Bose says. “Aside from the potential of autonomous vehicles to cause far fewer accidents and fatalities in the urban environment, their arrival also provides an opportunity to rebalance the power dynamics and give pedestrians an equal weighting in the conversation between pedestrians and vehicles on the road.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.