self-driving cars & cyclists

Google’s self-driving cars might be too good at braking for cyclists

Google’s self-driving cars are cautious by design, but in at least one instance, it may be a bit too much. A cyclist posting on a road bike forum says that an encounter between themself and a self-driving car ended up with neither moving more than a few inches for a good two minutes. The cyclist apparently came to a stop at a four-way intersection moments after a Google car did, but the cyclist remained standing on their bike. As the car began to move forward, the cyclist also rolled forward slightly, causing the car to come to a halt. While trying to maintain balance on the bike, this back and forth keep going:

“I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one.”

“We repeated this little dance for about two full minutes, and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection,” the cyclist writes. “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 it’s obviously not the right behavior for a self-driving car, that’s not a bad outcome for the encounter. Drivers often aren’t very courteous of cyclists, but a well-made autonomous vehicle would have no option but to be careful and respectful. “The odd thing,” the cyclist writes, is that “I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one.” Google may still have a lot of work to do, but that’s the outcome it’s looking for.

The encounter is said to have occurred in Austin, where Google very recently began a new set of self-driving car tests on public roads. In fact, it’s encounters like this one that Google was looking for when it started up there. “From pedicabs to pickup trucks, Austin’s streets will give our self-driving car some new learning experiences,” Google said at the time. It’s not surprising to hear that Google’s cars continue to be cautious in their encounters with basically anything else on the road. Google recently started to report accidents that its cars have been in, and so far, Google says, every accident was the fault of another vehicle’s human driver.

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