The thought of going head to head with a car driven by computer has me a bit worried. Luckily the government sponsored research center, the Rand Corporation is on it. You might remember these guys from satellites, to mind-gaming the Soviets to some pretty wrong-headed research on creativity. Basically, when there is some new earth-shattering technological advancements, Rand either helps research it and figure it out, applies it and sees what it’s effects are, or does some heavy duty analysis about how technology should be treated with policy.
I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’d prefer to get into an argument with a dumbass, road raging car potato than just getting run over by a “smart car” because it thought I was a fire hydrant. So I’ve been looking into it, because the day is coming, possibly within the next five years, when there will be autonomous vehicles on the road with the algorithmically challenged portion of the human race.
Then there is the sunny prospect that self-driving technologies like lane drift and other safety features will actually make us dumber and more insensitive to others. The Lexus, famous for its ambient exterior noise muting removes one of our five senses entirely from driving. No wonder, when you nearly get run over by someone driving a Lexus, though they might be a nice person pounding on their window with righteous anger because they almost just killed you, yields indignation on the part of the motorist. “How dare you yell at me, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Motorist looking dumb. Thanks Lexus.
Perhaps the biggest problem with AV tech is the GPS. GPS relies on satellites. Satellites can be affected by cosmic interference like solar flares. It’s not often, but there are those times when networks go down. How about viruses? How about someone shooting a satellite out of the sky? How about satellite crashing into space junk in earth’s orbit? How about a cell tower getting knocked down. These are extremely rare occurrences, but nonetheless it is fair to say that it is not a fail-safe system. Then there are the sensors on the car. For now, these AV tests are being tested in places like Arizona famous for clear skies and lack of precipitation, in any form, on the road. I’m not very confident sensors will be picking up everything they need to if they are encased in a slush-ice cocoon on a frigid, dirty snow day in Buffalo, NY.
Then there is hacking. I have a friend who sits in cafes and hacks peoples computers. He’s a jackass, he knows he’s wrong, but he’s a case in point. What’s to stop bad guys, or just a bunch of 4-Chan knuckleheads from hacking your car while you’re driving and using it to run over stuff. To a Millennial anarchist, this sounds like a really exciting real life video game of Grand Theft Auto.
So who is liable when a cyclist gets hit and killed by an AV?
Here are a few of my suggestions for AV’s. I think they should include this list of sensors to ensure that we troglodytes on push bikes don’t get squashed because we resemble ponies. Given the choice between killing its passenger or a pony, the car will probably swerve in an emergency situation and kill the cyclist and that poor pony.
Lambchop’s Mandatory AV Tech for Cyclist Safety
- Human voice detection: The car should be able to tell that a human is yelling at it, in any language, in any form. Scream, cry, yell, polite assertion (for Canadians), if it is a human voice and it is saying language, the car should respond.
- Object recognition: Do not confuse me with a pony, a Great Dane, a New York rat. In all fairness it would be awful if cars started killing ponies.
- Anti-dooring: Passengers can still open their doors on cyclists causing the cyclist to crash into the door. This technology should sense a cyclist coming alongside and not allow the passenger to open the door if conditions are unsafe, for good measure it should also give the passenger a stern warning.
- Safe-passing distance: The car should pass cyclists with a safe distance and not squeeze them into curbs or into parked cars.
- Infrared Detection: How about using Night Vision Goggle technology to determine when there are people moving around? People, Great Danes and even ponies radiate heat…
For those of you who, like me are worried about a world full of AV’s, The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, historically always ahead of the power curve when it comes to make streets safe for cycling, is keeping a very close eye on this new technology. They live and cycle in the same space with the Uber AV mass roll-out, if anyone knows what that picture is going to look like in the future, I’d recommend putting their website in your favorites.