The future has arrived…maybe.

Nothing says “the world of tomorrow, today” quite like self-driving cars. It’s exactly the sort of science-fiction idea that used to seem like far-off fantasy, but is actually being developed by companies like Google and Apple.

So while everyone knows that autonomous cars are in the works, it was still a shocking surprise for folks in Arlington, Virginia to see a Ford Transit cruising around their neighborhood… with no people on board at all.

It was surprising because even the most advanced self-driving cars still require a human passenger, for technical and safety reasons.

But was this a new stage of testing that no longer required passengers?

Had someone secretly developed an automatic car so advanced that it didn’t need any human interaction at all?

Had the car developed sentience and hit the road on its own free will?

Needless to say, locals, tech blogs, and those following the development of autonomous cars were freaking out.

The truth is much weirder, and, uh… less technically impressive.

As word of this super-intelligent car roaming the streets of Arlington got around, Adam Tuss, the transportation reporter for NBC Washington, decided he had to investigate.

He finally caught up with the vacant vehicle, and got out for a closer look to see how exactly it worked.

What he found was… this:

Turned out the self-driving car everyone was buzzing about was, well, a guy dressed up as a car seat.

Who was this mysterious chair man? Why was he in disguise? What was he trying to accomplish?

Tuss never got an answer. As the reporter asked him questions, the chair man decided to just keep up the act, and silently sped along without comment:

If you’re assuming this was a rather reckless YouTube prank, we don’t blame you. But that’s also not the case.

It was, believe it or not, part of a legitimate research study.

It was revealed that the “self-driving car” was part of a test by Virginia Tech, to study “human behavior in the presence of new technology in the real world.”

In other words, seeing how people reacted to a car driving around on its own.

The test was kept top secret. According to NBC Washington, not even the Virginia Department of Transportation or the Arlington Police Department were given a heads up about the van.

But Virginia Tech ensures that the study was perfectly safe, and that, while you wouldn’t think it, the car seat driver had full view of the road.

“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,” their site reads.

The car seat himself, however, reportedly declined an interview for NBC.