‘Driverless’ Van Turns Out to Be Va. Tech Researcher Costumed as Car Seat

The van appeared to be driving itself on the streets of a Virginia neighborhood this month, but in reality a person dressed as a car seat was in control as part of an experiment conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

That news came to light on Monday thanks to a video that went viral. It showed Adam Tuss, a reporter for the NBC television affiliate in Washington, D.C., trying to question the van’s driver. Only the driver’s hands on the steering wheel are visible in the video, and the motorist says nothing as Mr. Tuss asks questions fruitlessly.

Anne Deekens, a spokeswoman for the institute at Virginia Tech, confirmed to The Chronicle that the project was the institute’s research, but she said the researchers were unavailable for interviews. According to a webpage about the project, it “is one of many being conducted to determine how best to design automated vehicles.” The page also states that the vehicle’s driver was made to be “less visible within the vehicle, while still allowing him or her the ability to safely monitor and respond to surroundings.”

“Research projects such as this (e.g., studying human behavior in the presence of new technology in the real world) are extremely valuable to policy makers and vehicle manufacturers,” according to the page, which was just posted on Monday.

While more information wasn’t immediately available, the results of study will be made public.

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