A van that appeared to be operating without a driver garnered media attention in Arlington, Virginia, last week — but a closer look into the vehicle revealed something incredibly peculiar.
An unmarked grey van with Virginia license plates, the car was seen cruising through the streets of Arlington, driving up and down a pair of streets at least six times last Thursday night, according to ARLnow.
The Ford Transit Connect drove just fast enough to keep up with traffic, and it was equipped with cameras and a light bar behind the windshield. That light bar would start blinking when the car stopped at a red light — and stopped blinking when the light turned green and the car began to move again.
Many people on the road didn’t seem to notice the apparent absence of a driver in the car, according to ARLnow, while others pointed at the car in confusion.
At first, spokespeople for Arlington County, the Arlington County Police Department and the Federal Highway Administration told ARLnow that they were not aware of any self-driving vehicle testing that was slated to occur that day.
However, thanks to the sleuthing of NBC4’s Adam Tuss, an answer to the mystery of the “driverless” grey van was found.
Tuss was just leaving the ARLnow office after talking to founder Scott Brodbeck about the autonomous car he witnessed.
That’s when he saw the mysterious car.
He approached the vehicle and knocked on the window, at first seeing no one in the car.
But upon further inspection, he noticed something odd: the car’s driver seat had human arms and legs. And there was a man — his face covered so he could see out, but no one could see in.
“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?”
There was no response.
So why was there a man posed as a car seat driving throughout Arlington?
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute confirmed to NBC4 that the man was part of a study it was conducting on autonomous cars. And the disguise was part of the research.
“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.
It was definitely a shocking moment for Tuss.
“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.”