Self-driving cars will be a huge part of our future transportation landscape. That's why we invited Principal Researcher for Human Understanding and Design at the Nissan Research Center Melissa Cefkin to give us insight into how these machines will adapt to roads full of humans.

Cefkin is an anthropologist, but she isn't the type of anthropologist you might envision. Instead of studying tribal peoples or different cultures, Cefkin is a corporate anthropologist. She is currently in the business of taking a fresh look at how people interact with an important cultural icon more than 100 years old, the car. Cefkin is preparing autonomous Nissans to be courteous drivers by analyzing how real people do it every day. She doesn't just look at how cars interact with each other, but how cars interact with everything else on the road. Cefkin said one of the toughest problems for self-driving cars to work out is a tough one for human drivers as well: the four-way intersection.

"What happens at a four-way stop, it's open to a lot of interpretation," she explained. "Yeah, I'm supposed to stop ... (but) once I've stopped it doesn't tell me when to go again, so that's up to me to figure out."

Cefkin's team is trying to recreate that communication between drivers in the car. The video above is an example of how Nissans may act in the coming years. Some features, such as a light that acknowledges pedestrians, will most likely come into reality sooner rather than later. The team is also exploring how to have the car communicate with multiple humans at once.

Cefkin came to Nissan from IBM Research. Prior to that she was Director of Advance Research and User Experience at Sapient Corporation, and she was a senior research scientist at the Institute for Research on Learning.

Joining Cefkin at UPSHIFT in Detroit on October 6th will be other luminaries from technology and transportation fields. Extra early bird tickets are still available. Remember that students and recent grads can also apply for free tickets. Check out our event page and don't forget to RSVP on Facebook as well. We hope to see you there.

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