Skoda has pioneered the tech and wants to take it mainstream.
Volkswagen's Skoda brand is working on a new safety system to help pedestrians cross the road safely, with a new Human-Machine Interface (HMI) communicating with pedestrians and fellow drivers alike.
The Czech automaker has fitted an Enyaq - closely related to the Volkswagen ID.4 - with a grille-mounted display. When the EV approaches a crosswalk, the vehicle's sensors and safety technology detect pedestrians on the sidewalk and can instruct them to cross the street or not.
Arrows, along with a walking avatar, show them that it's safe to cross the road. Skoda has chosen green to convey this message, as we already associate this color with having the right of way. Once the pedestrian has safely made their way over the street, two flashing red warning triangles appear on the grille, indicating that entering the crosswalk is no longer safe.
Usually, when waiting at a pedestrian crossing, we look to the driver for confirmation that it's safe to cross the road. But with fully autonomous vehicles edging closer to reality, there's a chance that someday, we may find ourselves having to venture to the opposite sidewalk in front of a self-driving car without occupants. This system will help confused pedestrians make safe progress without fear of getting run over, particularly when large SUVs approach an intersection.
Skoda has tested the technology with real people: using eye-tracking glasses, Skoda says that participants focused on the display quickly, even from far distances. Before using the larger "mask," the company trialed a smaller screen, but that was less successful than what we see here.
As mentioned, the display doesn't just help pedestrians. The company notes that it can display all sorts of important information, helping other road users in the process.
"It can be anything. When the vehicle receives some information from the city infrastructure or another car, it could be shown as a sign on the car." Skoda notes the driver or occupant will also have an HMI within the interior to keep them updated.
Of course, this is still a prototype, and Skoda has a few roadblocks to navigate before this prototype makes its way to production vehicles. Under the current road safety legislation, an Enyaq with an HMI screen would not be allowed to drive on the road. This is because lawmakers still need to decide which symbols are universally understood and what can work. "We have to wait for [the] serial deployment of such technology on the [regulatory] framework."
Another issue is that colors have not yet been assigned to the safety system. There are plans to allocate certain hues to autonomous vehicle systems, but this is yet to happen.
Should it come to fruition, the automaker hopes to streamline the design, possibly integrating the functionality within the company's Crystal illuminated grille. Of course, aesthetics are important. After all, no one will buy a Skoda if it's got an ugly safety feature tacked on the front. So the company must still find a way to appease the legislation and satisfy designers.
It's a great idea, and we hope to see it on new vehicles soon. Even with the latest pedestrian detection systems, individuals are still at risk of getting run down, especially at night, when most of these systems prove ineffective.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 3,434 US pedestrians died in the first half of 2022 after being struck by a vehicle. Technology to eradicate these needless deaths is essential, and companies like Ford are working on an external front airbag to cushion the blow for pedestrians.
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