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Autonomous Driving Research Takes Turn for the Weird With a Driver Dressed as a Car Seat

Apparently, the strange sight was part of legitimate research into the human side of autonomous cars.

With autonomous cars getting more and more green lights for testing by cities all around the nation, seeing a car without a driver isn’t a totally shocking sight — while many cities require a driver to be in a test vehicle, that’s not true everywhere anymore. A recent sight in Arlington, Virginia really was strange, though — a vehicle that appeared to have no driver was being driven by a dude dressed up like a car seat.

For a while, many were convinced that the Ford Transit Connect Van cruising the streets was a legit driverless vehicle, despite some warning signs. Things looked amiss when the usual testing array of sensors wasn’t spotted atop the vehicle — given that that van isn’t produced with built-in sensors, that would seem to preclude it from having autonomous capabilities unless someone had developed a really impressive aftermarket drive system.

Turns out, the only thing that was developed was the most convincing car seat costume ever. Adam Tuss of NBC Washington did some solid journalism and tailed the vehicle when he spotted it on the road in Arlington. He hustled over to get some pics of the interior of the car, and when he got a look inside, he saw something unexpected — legs. The driver had a car seat costume on that allowed for visibility, with his legs out of sight and his hands tucked away in the six o’clock position on the wheel.

Virginia Tech eventually fessed up to the experiment, and while they didn’t go into detail, it apparently had something to do with studying the reactions of human drivers to driverless vehicles on the road. That secret study probably just met with an early death now that it’s been discovered and plastered on the news, so hopefully they got some good data before then.

Via The Guardian

Header image: NBC Washington/Adam Tuss