Mountain View-based Google often touts the relative safety of their self-driving car fleet, however in most cases the safety of drivers is what comes to mind. Via the company's monthly self-driving car report, we now learn just how the autonomous vehicles take into considerations the safety of cyclists sharing the road as well. With the recent deaths of two women biking through San Francisco very much still in the forefront of many people's minds, this report provides us with some much needed insight into how even those who chose not to ride in autonomous vehicles will still be impacted by the the machines' decisions.
"Cyclists are fast and agile — sometimes moving as fast as cars — but that also means that it's hard for others to anticipate their movements," the report claims. "Our cars recognize cyclists are unique users of the road, and are taught to drive conservatively around them (it helps to have a number of avid cyclists on our engineering team!)."
But just what, exactly, does "conservative" mean for a robot? Google provides us with some examples. "[When] our sensors detect a parallel-parked car with an open door near a cyclist, our car is programmed to slow down or nudge over to give the rider enough space to move towards the center of the lane and avoid the door," explains the report. "We also aim to give cyclist sample buffer room when we pass, and our cars won’t squeeze by when cyclists take the center of the lane, even if there’s technically enough space."
Does that mean that the self-driving cars will follow California law and give cyclists three-feet of space while passing? Unclear.
The report also details how car sensors can detect bikers at night, and how the 360-degree view helps it be more aware of its surroundings.
Clearly at this time no car, autonomous or otherwise, can be 100 percent safe for either its driver or the cyclists and pedestrians that surround it, but it is at least somewhat reassuring to know that Google hasn't forgotten about those on two wheels. Let's hope the company's "avid cyclists" continue to remind them.