Pedestrian Communication

Pedestrain Communication

Waymo began as Google's self-driving car project in 2009. Their goal is to make it safe and easy for passangers to get around but have they considered everyone on the road?

I worked as part of a multidisciplinary team that consisted of a copywriter, art director and experience designer. While I was at VCU Brandcenter, we were asked to build trust with an emerging technology so we focused on autonomous vehicles during the transition period before mass adoption.

Our final deliverables were a campaign and a minimum viable product that helps pedestrians feel recognized and understood. I was responsible for market research, prototyping, user testing and visual storytelling.

My Role
Research, Prototyping, User Testing, Interaction Design, 3D Design

Zach Vono, Mitchel Moss, Collin Oshea

When pedestrians encounter vehicles, they expect a signal from the driver to see if they should walk or wait.

If the driver sees them and wants to let them walk, they let them know by smiling, making eye contact or giving a wave. When drivers are removed from the vehicle, it's the vehicle's responsibility to communicate with pedestrians.

Right now, there are hundreds of Waymo vehicles driving around California and Arizona without a means to communicate with pedestrians. 'Waymo One' is the pilot program for the company's commercial ride-hailing service. Some of the most popular trips taken by early riders are places are to work, school, and the supermarket. These are all places that are crowded with pedestrians.

Unmarked crosswalks, suburbs, and rural environments present higher risks for pedestrian safety.

Pedestrian Communication System

The communication system lets pedestrians know when they are seen and when it's safe to cross the road. It uses familiar symbols to avoid language barriers.

Product Demonstration (No Audio)

How it works

The ICS only activates when a pedestrian intends to cross the road or a biker is on either side of the vehicle. It adds transparency to how Waymo's vehicles think and behave, making them more predictable so pedestrians know what to expect.


1) 'Walk' and 'Do Not Walk' Symbols for Pedestrians
2) Light Bars for Bikers

Design Guidelines


  • Communicate the information clearly and without distractions
  • Always display the vehicle's current information
  • Place signals near the front windshield to maximize scan-ability


  • Anticipate the user’s needs by displaying timely and relevant information
  • Use background time to update fetch new data and refresh the display
  • Clarity, not clever


  • Interactions with the self-driving car should be quick
  • Respond to pedestrian interactions with immediate feedback
  • Minimize the time it takes to launch and load new signals


Pedestrian decision making

After spending time at intersections and speaking with pedestrians, I wanted to dive deeper. My goal was to understand the moment of meaning between perception and action. It felt crucial since pedestrian communication impacts both the safety of the public and the perception of Waymo's brand. My next step was researching the factors in pedestrian decision making to understand the different variables at play when pedestrians encounter Waymo vehicles.

Empathy Map

After user interviews and researching factors in pedestrian decision making, I constructed an empathy map to create a shared understanding of what pedestrians experience at crosswalks and intersections. I was able to identify the user needs based off of the most frequent patterns within the data.



Next, I created a flow diagram that adds pedestrian communication to the vehicle's current functionality. Pedestrian communication consists of outward messages about what the vehicle sees and intends to do.


Research Goal
Determine the most effective way for driverless cars to communicate with pedestrians.

If the ICS uses a combination of symbols and colors, then pedestrians will know when it is safe to cross the road

I prototyped two versions of the ICS in After Effects and tested them in a survey by animating an existing image of a Waymo vehicle at an intersection. The first set used only color while the second set used color and symbols.

First Prototype


The results varied but it was clear that a form of context was missing for the first prototype. A little over 50% of the respondents thought read meant they were safe to walk and green meant the vehicle was about to go.

What worked?
The colors from the traffic signal offer a form of direction and placing the system near the driver windshield indicated that it was for pedestrians.

Moving Forward
Add the pedestrian walk signal (without the orange warning color) to the equation.

Second Prototype

Key Takeaways

Over 90% of the respondents understood what the vehicle was trying to communicate. Self-driving cars should communicate with pedestrians by using a combination of symbols and established traffic colors.

Autonomous vehicles are unconventional. They need to build trust through incremental change. Communicating in a familiar language will help eliminate ambiguity and prevent deadlock at crosswalks and intersections.

Speed-to-Market: Retrofitting the Lidar

Going back to the vehicle manufacturer is time intensive and too high of a cost. With their vehicles already on public roads, Waymo needs a system that doesn't hinder the progress they've made.

Mounting the intent communication system (ICS) towards the top of the vehicle increases visibility for pedestrians when there are adjacent vehicles. It is mounted at the base of the LIDAR to avoid blocking any sensors and ensure that it is legible from either side of the street.

Retrofitted Lidar

Setting the Stage for the Driverless Future

Waymo's success relies on expanding their self-driving service to new states. Reducing uncertainty in the public eye will help state officials see the value in bringing Waymo's vehicles to their city rather than the risk they pose.

Pedestrian's Expectations Are Needs

Waymo can earn trust on the road by communicating in a familiar language. By prioritizing the pedestrian's understanding, Waymo will earn the trust of the public.

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