The question of how self-propelled cars should interact and communicate with humans is one that has come up before, but the answer is still up in the air. Google has looked at this at least since 2012, and earlier this year, Uber filed a patent for the use of flashing lights and sounds to talk with pedestrians. Now, the U.S. Patent Office has given Lift a patent for what it describes as an autonomous vehicle alert system.
Lyfts solution involves developing a predefined message to be displayed on the most visible car window. For example, each window includes a projector, a transparent screen, or other display device to convey the message.
"[…] integrates these autonomous services provided in a mixed, autonomous and human-operated environment having many challenges," patent filing states. "Drivers and pedestrians are used to interacting in certain ways, removing a driver from any vehicle can lead to insecurity and error communication."
Below you can see how Lift looks at communicating with other cars, cyclists, as well as passengers waiting for their car to arrive.
As mentioned, Lift is not the only company looking at ways for their autonomous vehicles to interact with the outside world. Startup Drive.ai uses, for example, LEDs that use text and images to communicate.
At the same time, Ford has called an industry-standard self-propelled car language for communicating purpose.
"We want everyone to rely on self-propelled vehicles – whether they are riders in these vehicles themselves or pedestrians, cyclists, scooters or other drivers who share the road." Ford Human Factors Technical Specialist for Vehicle Vehicles John Shutko wrote on Medium in October. "Having a Universal Communication Interface People across geographic and age groups can understand is crucial to the successful deployment of self-drive technology."
Lyft launched for the first time its self-propelled car department in July 2017. Since then, Lyft has partnered with Drive.ai, as well as the automotive supplier Magna on autonomous vehicle technology. Magna also invested $ 200 million in Lift in exchange for equity.
To be clear, patents do not always lead to product implementation. I have come to Lift and will update this story if I hear back.