Opinion: Self-Driving Cars Aren't Safe Until They Can Detect Bikes

Self-driving car companies have proposed equipping bikes, pedestrians, and even pets with the ability to communicate their positions wirelessly. But should autonomous cars really need the help?
February 9, 2018, 12pm PST | Elana Eden
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Tyler Olson

"The most difficult detection problem that autonomous vehicle systems face"—according to a 2017 report from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers—is bicycles.

That's a blind spot with life-or-death stakes, so companies like Ford, Tome Software, and Trek Bicycle have proposed a possible solution: give bikes the ability to simply tell autonomous cars where they're going. But Christina Bonnington argues in Slate that bicycle-to-vehicle communication—or its logical extension, vehicle-to-everything—is just a crutch for fundamentally inadequate detection technology.

After comparing the logistics of distributed communication to the high-performing detection systems boasted by some AV companies, like Uber and Waymo, Bonnington concludes:

"Bicycle-to-vehicle communication is a good idea and could be useful in certain scenarios, such as when visibility is low—at night or in the rain—or on tricky, twisty back roads with blind corners. But if cars are going to drive the roads without human help, they need to be able to handle all of the challenges that come with it, regardless of whether they’re wirelessly connected to the world around them."

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Published on Saturday, February 3, 2018 in Slate
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