Working out the intentions of other human drivers usually isn't too difficult – and most people will vociferously let you know if you go wrong – but what happens with self-driving cars? When there's a robot behind the wheel, it's not quite as simple to work out which direction a vehicle's going to turn next.
Uber thinks it might have an answer, as per a recently filed patent (opens in new tab): flashing lights and signs on the outside of self-driving cars that tell pedestrians exactly what's happening. One image shows a "please proceed to cross" sign on the front grill.
These "intention outputs" will show other road users when an autonomous vehicle is about to change lanes, set off, pull to a stop, and so on. It'll be a bit like watching for the green crossing signal, only embedded on a car.
The system is designed to replace the nod of the head or the flash of the lights we might use today, Uber's Sean Chin told The Verge (opens in new tab): "While we don't have final implementation, what we're considering is what is a new language we can create to give people that information."
According to Chin, if other road users like pedestrians and cyclists know what a self-driving car is going to do, they'll be better able to respond, meaning safer situations for all of us. The patent hasn't been approved yet though, and Uber says the final implementation might look a lot different to this – they're just kicking some ideas around for now.
Self-driving car trials continue in the US, with Waymo recently publishing a video of its early rider program, where members of the public can get on board an autonomous vehicle with no human backup driver. It looks like once the excitement wears off we'll go back to texting, taking selfies and... falling asleep.