If you thought you'd seen a van without a driver motoring around the Washington, D.C., area recently, you weren't alone.
That's what it looked like. But the seemingly driverless vehicle actually had a disguised driver behind the wheel and was part of an experiment into how people will react to self-driving cars.
After a Ford Transit van with no apparent driver was spotted whisking around the urban streets of Arlington, Va., in recent days, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute disclosed that the project was part of a study on how people will react to the technology.
The goal is to learn how autonomous vehicles should be designed to protect pedestrians.
As it turns out, the researchers had a person behind the wheel disguised as part of the car seat.
"This study is investigating the potential need for additional exterior signals on automated vehicles," VTTI said. The "research is relevant for ensuring pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers are accommodated."
Although self-driving car tests are common in many states, the vehicles are still required to have someone behind the wheel or capable of operating the vehicle safely if intervention is required.
Though Virginia officials apparently did not know about the study ahead of time, it's unlikely that permits were required since the Transit's self-driving capabilities were an illusion.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
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