Well, this is just weird
Outside of some extremely specific situations, if an automaker or tech company wants to test autonomous driving technology on public roads, it still puts a human in the driver’s seat to intervene if necessary. So when Arlington, Virginia, residents didn’t see anyone behind the wheel of the Ford Transit pictured above, they were understandably alarmed. But when a reporter looked inside, the story got even weirder.
Citing an article from ARLnow, The Verge reports that the van was spotted in Arlington last Thursday, and it appeared to be testing out some sort of self-driving system. On Monday, NBC Washington reporter Adam Tuss noticed the driverless van at a stop sign. When he approached the vehicle, he realized the empty driver’s seat was actually a person dressed up like an empty seat.
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) August 7, 2017
The seat-costumed driver sped off, leaving behind one very confused reporter and all kinds of questions. Who was the person behind the wheel? Was it a prank? Could the car actually drive itself? Where do you go to buy a seat disguise like that? Does this seat-disguise store only sell Ford Transit seat costumes, or can you purchase other car seat costumes, too?
The local police department confirmed to ARLnow that some autonomous vehicle testing was going on in the area, but it couldn’t say whether or not the Transit being monitored by the man dressed up as a car seat was part of that. Eventually, though, NBC Washington cracked the case. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute admitted both the van and the driver were part of an autonomous car test.
“The driver’s seating area is configured to make the driver less visible within the vehicle, while still allowing him or her the ability to safely monitor and respond to surroundings,” the institute said in a statement.
Unfortunately, Tuss wasn’t able to line up an interview with the car seat-man hybrid that drives the “driverless” Ford Transit.