As the idea of self driving cars comes closer to reality, the concern on most people’s minds is the safety of other road users. The most vulnerable of which would be pedestrians and cyclists; those not in a protective, airbag equipped vehicle of their own. It’s hard enough making sure human drivers see us when we’re cycling, so trusting a computer to do the same is understandably difficult. As the clear leader in developing a self driving car, Google is proving their technology is up to the task. With over 700,000 miles logged, they’ve been putting their car through the paces with increasingly complicated real world situations.
Google just released a video which shows what their autonomous car is “seeing” when it encounters unique situations such as construction zones, railroad crossings, and even cyclists. The results so far are encouraging. The car is able to recognize a cyclist on the road behind or in front of it, yield to them when necessary, and even interpret hand signals. In the following video, the Google car slows to allow a cyclist to take the lane after recognizing their hand signal. In the next scene, it waits to let a rider pass by on the right, before making a right turn.
This shows that we may be closer than many thought to a working, and more importantly very safe, self driving car. I’m not giving up my bike commute for a car any time soon, even if it can drive itself, but I certainly feel better knowing the technology will protect cyclists. Perhaps the future of sharing the road with cars won’t be so bad after all.