Everyone has heard of the imminent takeover of the road by driverless vehicles, but a supposed driverless van that’s been cruising around Arlington, Va., was not what it appeared to be.
News4’s Adam Tuss spotted the van on Monday, and when he approached the driver’s side he discovered “one of the strangest things [he’s] ever seen” — the supposedly driverless van had a driver: a man who was disguised to look like a car seat.
From the street, it appeared that the driver’s seat is empty, but a peek inside revealed the beige and black costume covering the man’s entire torso. His arms slipped through the bottom of the costume to steer, and his head was completely covered, like one of those full body costumes where the person can see out, but you can’t see in. Crazy.
“I looked out and I said, ‘Oh my God, there’s a guy in a seat costume,” Tuss said. “How’s that possible? Your brain can’t get around it for a second.”
Tuss saw the van when he went to the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington on Monday to talk to ARLnow founder Scott Brodbeck about the vehicle he saw in Clarendon and Courthouse on Thursday night.
As Tuss was leaving the ARLnow.com offices, he saw the van. Tuss and his News4 cameraman followed the van for about 20 minutes. Finally, Tuss was able to approach the van. He looked in the driver’s side window and indeed thought the front seat was empty. When he looked down, he saw a man’s hands and legs.
“Brother, who are you? What are you doing? I’m with the news, dude,” Tuss said. “Dude, can you pull over, and we can talk for a second?”
The man said nothing and acted as though he were invisible.
Tuss got to the bottom of the bizarre case after speaking with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. After several inquiries, he was finally told that the van and the driver were part of a study being conducted on driverless cars. As for the man dressed as a car seat, he was supposed to be wearing the costume. Furthermore, Tuss initially thought the van ran a red light to evade him, but Virginia Tech said that camera footage from inside the van showed that the light was yellow.
“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,” a statement from the institute said.
Virginia Tech declined to make the driver available for an interview. A Virginia Tech spokesperson told News4 that Arlington was picked for the study because “it is representative of the urban areas for which automated vehicles are currently being considered”
News4 dug up another “invisible driver” prank video on YouTube for comparison, though that video seemed to be for kicks rather than for any scientific study.