At a four-way stop in Austin, Texas, a cyclist on a fixed-gear bike — or a "fixie" as the in-group calls them — baffled one of Google's self-driving vehicles. Could it be a harbinger for confusion on the streets of San Francisco, or will such cars and bikes be able to play nice?
As the Washington Post explains, the cyclist was executing a track stand, inching slightly forward without putting a foot on the ground. That caused the cautious vehicle to proceed in fits and starts for several minutes.
As the cyclist, who goes by Oxtox and has a high reputation rating (and the tagline "fecal indicator") on roadbikereview.com writes in to that forum,
"[A] Google self-driving Lexus has been in my neighborhood for the last couple of weeks doing some road testing.
[N]ear the end of my ride today, we both stopped at an intersection with 4-way stop signs.
[T]he car got to the stop line a fraction of a second before I did, so it had the ROW. I did a track-stand and waited for it to continue on through.
[It] apparently detected my presence (it's covered in Go-Pros) and stayed stationary for several seconds. it finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. the car immediately stopped...
I continued to stand, it continued to stay stopped. then as it began to move again, I had to rock the bike to maintain balance. it stopped abruptly."
You may recall Google's self-driving Lexus ran into a spot of trouble closer to San Francisco, in Mountain View, when one autonomous SUV was rear-ended and three employees suffered minor whiplash. In Austin, however, the employees sounded more amused than upset. According to Oxtox:
"[W]e repeated this little dance for about 2 full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. the two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to 'teach' the car something about how to deal with the situation."
Though the movement of cyclists sounds intuitively difficult for self-driving cars to comprehend, the Washington Post says such innovation could be "a boon for cycling." That's since, "If self-driving vehicles almost never crash, roads will become immensely more safe and inviting to cyclists."
Still, that road could be a long one. In the meantime, Google received a patent earlier this year which detailed the way its cars might identify cyclists and read their hand signals, citing an ability to identify bike riders by measuring the distance between their heads and the street.
In San Francisco, ground zero for both cool-kid cyclists and early adopters of new technology like driverless cars, this could all lead to some funny or maybe not-so-funny situations. But, writes Oxtox, "I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one."