If we’re ever going to get to a world of self-driving cars we’re going to need ways to make sure that world is safe, not just for cars but for the people who drive them and the people who cross the street near them.

It turns out one way to keep pedestrians safe near autonomous vehicles may be… googly eyes.

You might have expected the ending of that sentence to be more high tech, or at least less silly sounding.

And yet, there’s been some research that suggests putting big googly eyes on cars might actually help.

Let’s explain.

One of the ways pedestrians can stay safe when there’s a car in the intersection they’re crossing is making eye contact with the driver.

That short little bit of nonverbal communication can help driver and pedestrian figure out which of the two goes through the intersection ahead of the other.

But there’s no way to have that same exchange with an autonomous vehicle.

The cars do have lots of sensors to keep them from hitting anybody, but the dynamics are different.

How do pedestrians know that the car knows that they’re there?

Enter the googly eyes.

Researchers in Japan actually tested these out on the front of a golf cart.

The eyes could face forward, turn toward a pedestrian at an intersection or turn away from them.

The study found that when the eyes turned toward the pedestrian, the pedestrians felt crossing was safer, as if the car was “looking” in their direction.

The research is so new that it still needs peer review, so there’s a lot more study to come.

But I’m pretty sure we can bank on at least one of its findings: safer or not, the pedestrians in the study said that seeing googly eyes the size of headlights on the front of a car without a visible driver was a little bit creepy.

This weekend in Pittsburgh, the Dirty Dozen Bike Race.

The race got its name because the roughly 60 mile course includes a baker’s dozen of the steepest hills in the city.

Animated Googly Eyes Could Make Autonomous Cars Safer For Pedestrians (Gizmodo)

Pittsburgh Dirty Dozen 2022

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Photo by Lenore Edman via Flickr/Creative Commons