Last month we covered a “driverless” car roaming Virginia streets that turned out to really just be a normal car with the driver hidden inside a seat suit. Today, I got a chance to try the seat suit out for myself. You can’t see my face, but this is a picture of me giving the thumbs-up sign from inside the suit.
The research was led by Andy Schaudt, a researcher at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, in partnership with Ford. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me take a test drive. Schaudt told me that they put their drivers through hours of training before letting them loose on public roads, and there wasn’t time to give me the necessary training.
Still, just from sitting in the seat, I could tell that driving the vehicle would be awkward. The suit is designed for the driver’s arms to rest on his or her lap, gripping the steering wheel from below. Lifting my arms would cause the flimsy front of the suit to fold, ruining the illusion. So drivers were trained to turn the wheel gingerly while keeping their arms near the bottom. The study also added an extension to the turn signal so drivers could reach it without raising their arms.