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Cyclist doing trackstand leaves Google's self-driving car confused

Tech giant welcomes incident as it continues to refine software to predict bike riders' behaviour

A cyclist has told of how he confused Google’s self-driving car – by trackstanding at a junction. Google says it welcomes the incident, as it helps the software behind the technology learn about bike riders' behaviour.

Posting on the Road Bike Review forum, site user Oxtox described his encounter with the vehicle as he rode his fixed-gear bike.

He wrote:

A Google self-driving Lexus has been in my neighbourhood for the last couple of weeks doing some road testing.

Near the end of my ride today, we both stopped at an intersection with 4-way stop signs.

The car got to the stop line a fraction of a second before I did, so it had the ROW [right of way]. I did a trackstand and waited for it to continue on through.

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.

We repeated this little dance for about 2 full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. The two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to 'teach' the car something about how to deal with the situation.

Google has been testing driverless technology in a variety of vehicles including its own prototype ‘pods’ for several years, with one of its features being the ability to predict the behaviour of road users including cyclists and pedestrians.

The vehicles - or rather, the tech and software behind them - are, understandably, cautious to the extreme. The firm has said that there have been 11 minor road incidents in the six years in which they have been tested and that all bar one were caused by the drivers of other vehicles. In the sole incident caused by a Google car, it was being driven in manual mode by a member of staff.

Dmitri Dolgov, the head of software for the self-driving car project, has said Google's software is getting better at predicting the behaviour of pedestrians and other road users and cited one example in which a Google car paused when a cyclist ran a red light, while another car, driven by a human, continued and nearly hit them. The firm’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, says the goal is to create something that is safer than human drivers.

– Google to test purpose-built driverless vehicle on California roads

Earlier this year, it emerged that the company had patented technology that recognises cyclists’ hand signals as the technology evolves to assess and predict the behaviour of vulnerable road users with the overarching goal of improving safety for all.

– Google patent reveals how driverless cars recognise hand signals

The learning curve has now apparently expanded to include cyclists who are trackstanding.

A spokeswoman for Google told the Washington Post that the incident provides a good example of the feedback the company, now trialling the concept in areas such as Austin, Texas as well as near its headquarters in Mountain View, California, wants to get.

As for the trackstanding cyclist’s opinion of the encounter, Oxtox added:

The odd thing is that even tho it was a bit of a CF, I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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