Cyclists have a hard time on the road when it comes to visibility. One of the main elements that put people off cycling more regularly in cities is the risk of being hit by another vehicle, or even an opening car door, because other road users do not notice a cyclist approaching. The advent of vehicle automation seems to offer a solution to this problem, as sensors and artificial intelligence always have their “minds” focused on looking out for obstacles and hazards, but even when human error is taken out of the equation, there remain visibility problems regarding cyclists.
As bicycles are a lot smaller than cars, and come in a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes, it is harder for technology to identify their presence compared to that of a car or a lorry. Technology developers working at George Mason University, in collaboration with robot taxi company Zoox, are working on an algorithm called Deep3DBox, which identifies the orientation of other vehicles on the road. At present, it can correctly identify whether a car is facing forwards or backwards 88% of the time, but for cyclists the figure is only 59%, which is not enough for the software to be reliable on the roads.
The ability of sensors to correctly orient a bicycle on the road will increase over time, due to the utilisation of large numbers of data being collected by apps such as Mobileye. Sensors may be able to correctly identify the orientation of bicycles, but there remains the problem of figuring out the path they are likely to take. This issue could be solved by road design that takes automated vehicles into account, and underlines the salience of city authorities in addressing the coexistence of automated and other vehicles on their roads, as with separated lanes for cycling, the importance of identifying bicycles and braking for them is reduced.
There is some way to go yet before automated vehicles are a regular part of most people’s lives, but it is time now for city authorities to have plans that will make the transition smoother and safer, as the way roads are designed today will have an impact that lasts for many years to come.
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