Tesla’s will soon talk to pedestrians. Talking cars will take some getting used to.

In April last year, Musk set an ambitious timeline for his team to deliver a ‘feature complete’ version of Full Self Driving by the end of 2019. Now in early 2020, we know they missed that timeline, but asked this weekend on Twitter, Musk confirmed it’d be available ‘Soon’.

What ‘Soon’ means is anyone’s guess, but I’d certainly describe it as a month or 2. If this drags on past the end of Q1, that’ll certainly be seen as late again. We’re all pretty used to Tesla being late on things and when you set aggressive timelines, that’s bound to catch up with you every now and then.

Musk’s clearly thinking ahead about how to solve human and autonomous vehicle interactions, like when your driverless Tesla arrives to pick you up.

Publishing a video on Twitter this afternoon, we see a video of red Tesla Model 3 saying “Well don’t just stand there, hop in.” Followed shortly after by “Have you practiced that expression long?”

The tone to these announcements, is another demonstration of a company with a sense of humour. Naturally Twitter lit up with conversations about the source of the audio playing to the outside world.

In vehicles produced in the later half of 2019, there is a speaker, known as a noise maker, embedded under the front bar of the car, used for emitting sound as the car moves at low speed, as a pedestrian warning system, under international safety regulations.

The issue with using this is that tens of thousands of Tesla’s (including mine) don’t have this speaker.

Another theory, and the more likely scenario is that the sound comes from the internal speakers of the car. In the video, the passenger-side window is rolled down, so it’s easy for the sound to escape.

This raises even more questions:

  • Is the system smart enough to roll down the window on the side the passenger is detected?
  • Will this only activate when the car is in proximity of the ride share user’s phone? Or the location they set for pickup ?
  • Will it activate if it hasn’t detected people around?
  • Will the window only lower to the vent position to avoid anyone getting in the car that shouldn’t?
  • Will the window still go down if it’s raining?
  • Will they use pressure sensors in the car to determine if the occupant count is 0, then blast the sound to ensure it’s heard outside the vehicle?
  • Could the pedestrian talk back? The microphones inside the car are unlikely to be sensitive enough to hear the pedestrian clearly.

There’s lots to consider in making this a reality.

Twitter user @Kristennetten followed up another request, to have the car talk to pedestrians. Musk confirmed they will.. but again that raises more questions than it answers.

If an autonomous car is blocked for an extended period of time, like someone intentionally standing in front of it, you could imagine the car asks them to move.

If an autonomous car is seeking to maximise revenue, will it offer random pedestrians on the street a ride at a discounted rate?

Will they continue the comedy line and make people laugh (and hopefully fall in love with the brand), by paying them compliments as they roll by. It’s plausible that Tesla could leverage their computer vision systems to recognise what someone is wearing and respond to them. “Hey, you in the red shirt, you’re looking gorgeous today”.

It’s sure an interesting road ahead for autonomous vehicles and cars talking to people may be something we get used to, like talking to our voice assistants.

Given Tesla’s lead in autonomy, they’ll almost certainly face this issue before any other auto maker. When we’re talking about establishing societal norms regarding interacting with cars, I’d really love them to have some competition to help figure all this out.

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Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwrighthttp://techau.com.au/author/jason/
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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