Drive.ai, a start-up business based in Silicon Valley, has kitted out a set of autonomous vehicles with digital screens capable of displaying the signs, which are more commonly seen in texts.
In addition to showing the emojis, the screens can make sounds and display pictures, while they also carry the cameras and sensors the cars need for navigation.
It is hoped the system will help regular road-users to communicate with the robotic cars and improve safety once the vehicles start to be used more widely.
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A survey carried out by YouGov Omnibus for Bosch recently revealed that many people may hold reservations about driverless tech, with a third of respondents admitting they would be wary about using it.
The emojis could be a way of relieving these fears, and the company is currently testing its innovative system on the streets of California.
Explaining the firm’s idea, its co-founder and president Carol Reiley said emojis could help to improve communication between human motorists and self-driving cars.
“We are anticipating that people’s behaviour will be very different around self-driving cars (compared) to normal cars,” she said.
“We aren’t satisfied with the lights and sounds on a current car. We need to design a new kind of robot that can communicate safely and interact with people.”
She added that the stakes were particularly high as the cars would be the first robotic devices to be used in the real world, rather than simply in factories.
Drive.ai was founded by a group of graduates from the USA’s prestigious Stanford University after a starting fund of some $12 million was donated by anonymous investors.
The firm has said that its objective is to help bring down the number of fatal road accidents in the US, which are said to total more than 30,000 every year.
It is one of a cluster of companies to be granted a licence to test driverless vehicles in California, alongside Volkswagen, Tesla and Ford.