Can a fixed-gear bike confuse and throw Google's driverless car for a loop?
That seemed to be the case in Austin earlier this month, when a cyclist and Google self-driving car met at a four-way stop and the rider did a track stand — the motion when cyclists slightly rock back and forth to maintain balance, while their feet remain on the pedals. The cyclist claims when he did a track stand, Google's self-driving car came to a full stop.
"I did a track-stand and waited for it to continue on through," the cyclist wrote on an online bike forum, as reported by the Washington Post. "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."
The cyclist goes on to say that he and Google's driverless car repeated the dance for two full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection, as technicians were busily trying to figure out how to make the vehicle adapt and deal with the situation.
If this account pans out and holds true, then Google will definitely have to figure out how to prevent fixed-gear bikes — or anything else for that matter — from confusing its driverless cars.
The tech company's vehicles have driven upwards of 1.1 million miles in autonomous mode, according to the Washington Post. Many of those miles have been logged in Austin, where Google continues to test its cars.
Despite the peculiar encounter, the cyclist didn't leave the situation feeling disappointed about Google's driverless car. In fact, he felt safer with it on the road.
"The odd thing is ... I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one," the cyclist wrote.
The Post also points out that Google received a patent this past spring that will enable self-driving cars to identify cyclists and their hand signals better, along with measuring the distance between the pavement and the top of a stationary cyclist's head.
This will be a quirk that needs to be eliminated.