Google Says Its Self-Driving Cars Can Learn Cyclists’ Hand Signals

Image courtesy of pabak sarkar

From cars that squeeze cyclists out of their lanes to vehicles that fail to see when a biker is turning, people traveling on two wheels have many complaints with those traveling on four wheels. Cyclists might be happier to ride alongside self-driving vehicles in the future, as Google says its driverless cars can not only recognize their hand signals, but can understand them, remember them, and then reference those signals in the future.

“Our sensors can detect a cyclist’s’ hand signals as an indication of an intention to make a turn or shift over,” Google says in its June 2016 self-driving cars report [PDF]. “Cyclists often make hand signals far in advance of a turn, and our software is designed to remember previous signals from a rider so it can better anticipate a rider’s turn down the road.”

Google’s cars are also learning how to detect other tricky situations with bikes, like if a cyclist is passing a car whose driver has just stepped into the street.

“For example, when our sensors detect a parallel-parked car with an open door near a cyclist, our car is programmed to slow down or nudge over to give the rider enough space to move towards the center of the lane and avoid the door,” Google says.

Unlike many humans, Google’s car sounds like it’s intent on being polite, and will even cede the entire lane to a two-wheeler in some cases:

“We also aim to give cyclists ample buffer room when we pass, and our cars won’t squeeze by when cyclists take the center of the lane,” Google explains, “even if there’s technically enough space.”

This is an important step because while autonomous vehicles of the future will likely be able to communicate with and interpret other cars’ movements using sensors, radar, and other tools, cars will also have to deal with cyclists and pedestrians along its way. For example, a car standing at stop sign without a driver will need to understand what it means when a human waves it forward like they would with a car driven by a human.

This isn’t the first company to teach its self-driving cars about cyclists, Re/code notes, as Mercedes had a concept car that it said could understand human gestures.

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