In a sequence of events that resembles a Black Mirror episode written by a team that’s completely run out of ideas, residents of Arlington, Virginia were shocked to learn that what looked like a self-driving car was, in fact, something much better: a guy cruising around wearing a car seat costume.
Please, before this goes any further, enjoy these short clips:
As reported in an Uproxx story tracking the grim tale of The Arlington Seatman, vigilant local reporter Adam Tuss followed the supposedly driverless gray van for 20 minutes, trying to get a closer look at what 2017 onlookers might reasonably suspect to be nothing more than an autonomous vehicle designed by Elon Musk to deliver flowers to his Virginian relatives. Rather than closing the case by identifying the man, wonderfully still and silent with bare knees and white shorts sticking out from beneath the seat cover costume, the story got even weirder.
Surprisingly, the whole thing didn’t turn out to be an excellent though overly complex prank. The car seat-wearing man was actually participating in a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The exact purpose of the study isn’t clear, but Uproxx’s theory—that it’s to measure how people react to seeing driverless cars on the road—seems likely.
Whatever the case, we are still stuck with the public trauma of the image of a man/car seat hybrid, patrolling the streets of Arlington in a vehicle neither entirely human or machine. Virginia Tech’s study better be worth it.