As automakers and tech giants race to develop self-driving cars, one company says it's close to perfecting another type of autonomous vehicle—one that can berate runners and joggers all by itself.
The Ballet sedan, by Silicon Valley startup Spandau, is equipped with 360-degree sensors that continuously scan its environment for pedestrians. When it detects one (or more) moving at faster than a walking pace, it emits one of several preprogrammed messages from a rooftop speaker.
The messages, which are available in a number of languages and regional dialects, include:
- Get off the road!
- Get out of the middle of the road!
- Run, Forrest, run!
Users can add profanity by deselecting a tick-box in the control panel.
A Spandau spokesman said the company is happy with the results so far.
"Truly, this is such a leap forward," said Tony Hadley, the project's lead engineer. "Every moment a driver spends identifying and harassing runners is a moment he or she is not focused on other tasks. With this technology, motorists can 'outsource' this job to a computer, freeing them to focus on other things, such as texting."
Like other autonomous vehicles, however, the Ballet is still a work in progress. Hadley said he and his team are still fine-tuning the technology.
"Our program can correctly identify runners and joggers about 92% of the time," Hadley told Dumb Runner. "That's not bad, but it means that 8% of the time the car is screaming 'Get off the road!' at a mailbox or an abandoned shopping cart or something."
One time, said Hadley, a Ballet shrieked an obscenity at a dead deer on the shoulder of a rural road.
"That was frustrating," he said. "But also kind of funny."
Even as they work to perfect the Ballet, Hadley's team is thinking ahead. A future iteration of the technology, he said, will automatically compose and send emails to the editorial pages of local newspapers, complaining about runners and cyclists using streets and roads "designed for cars."
"We're excited to see what comes next," he said.