For the past week, Arlington, Virginia, residents have been reporting sightings of an unmarked gray van (a 2017 Ford Transit Connect) which appears to be driving itself. With companies like Google, Uber, Lyft, Ford, Mercedes, and Apple committed to making their own self-driving cars, it seems almost plausible that the unmarked vehicle could be a prototype. News4 anchor Adam Tuss spotted the “driverless” van on Monday. He and a photographer trailed the vehicle for about twenty minutes to take photographs and to get a closer look.
When Tuss finally took a look inside the vehicle, he realized the driver’s seat was actually a guy in a costume, something that’s been seen in many a YouTube prank video. He filmed himself trying to interview the driver, to no avail. How could that driver resist questions like, “Brother, who are you? What are you doing? I’m with the news, dude. Dude, can you pull over and we can talk for a second?”
So what’s going on here, if it’s not a prank? NBC News reached out to several sources for comment. Neither The Virginia Department of Transportation nor The Arlington Police Department knew about the van, with a representative from the police department saying they were “shocked” by it. But Arlington County officials and Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute provided an explanation.
[The] Virginia Tech Transportation Institute said Monday afternoon that the van and van driver are part of a study they are conducting on driverless cars. The worker was wearing the uniform he was supposed to wear. “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 says.
In other words, the university is likely gauging how other people react to seeing a “driverless” vehicle on the road. Hopefully the sight isn’t causing any accidents, but at least the driver of the van can’t be tricked into crashing by defaced street signs or sound wave-based attacks. He’s missing a great opportunity for YouTube pranks, though.