Drive Wire for August 31, 2016: Emoticons Are Coming to Autonomous Cars

Smart cars need more than a horn to communicate.

Good news for fans of Emojis. A company called Drive.ai is aiming to outfit future autonomous cars with external screens that broadcast Emoji—cartoonish smileys, eggplants and thumbs up—to fellow drivers and pedestrians. Later this year, the outfit will be testing the technology on California’s roads. The cars Drive.ai has outiftted have both front and rear screens, allowing it to communicate both with pedestrians ahead and alert cars behind why it has stopped.

This is a whimsical version of a very serious upcoming technology: car-to-X communication technology. In this case, by expanding the range of a car’s expression beyond honking, Carol Reiley, the co-founder and president of Drive.ai, hopes that incidents of road-rage, from aggressive honking to actual violence, will be greatly lessened. If autonomous cars are coming to our roadways, their robotic decisions will need explanation. And what better way to do that than through the world's favorite emoticons?