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Self Driving Cars: a Threat to Cyclists?

Self-driving cars are disquieting enough, but to have to worry about them on the road... well maybe they are better than pot smoking drivers, a frequent occurrence on my daily rides now.

IEEE Spectrum discusses how self-driving robotic cars pose a risk to bicyclists.

Robotic cars are great at monitoring other cars, and they’re getting better at noticing pedestrians, squirrels, and birds. The main challenge, though, is posed by the lightest, quietest, swerviest vehicles on the road.

Bicycles are probably the most difficult detection problem that autonomous vehicle systems face,” says UC Berkeley research engineer Steven Shladover.

Nuno Vasconcelos, a visual computing expert at the University of California, San Diego, says bikes pose a complex detection problem because they are relatively small, fast and heterogenous. “A car is basically a big block of stuff. A bicycle has much less mass and also there can be more variation in appearance — there are more shapes and colors and people hang stuff on them.”

... However, when it comes to spotting and orienting bikes and bicyclists, performance drops significantly. Deep3DBox is among the best, yet it spots only 74 percent of bikes in the benchmarking test. And though it can orient over 88 percent of the cars in the test images, it scores just 59 percent for the bikes.

Better hope your’re not in that 41% of cyclists that can’t be properly detected, by the best system. In what irresponsible world would a 1% failure to properly detect be tolerable? It’s OK to say “oops” for 1 in 100 humans on the road? But we’re talking 41 times worse than that.

Why should someone else’s convenience and/or profit-at-any-cost motive become a risk to my life?

On the other hand, at some point self-driving cars might be safer for cyclists, and then the losers of the world can smoke that joint on the way to collecting their free food and healthcare and what-not. I welcome one that won’t pass me on double yellow blind turns, for starters. But I also wonder just how much room such a car will be programmed to have vs the cyclist? The minimum required by law?

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