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Autonomous Vehicles Have Trouble Sensing Motorcycles, Bicycles

Posted by Scot D. Goldberg | Sep 14, 2019 | 0 Comments

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While it may be many years before fully driverless cars are on Florida roads, the advancing technology of autonomous vehicles, (AV), is quickly becoming something that will directly affect anyone who drives.

But while proponents of autonomous driving technology like Tesla and others claim this will be the future of transportation, many are concerned about what price will have to be paid in the process.

A study in Europe conducted by ACEM, a motorcycle industry group, found that the radar and LIDAR (Light Imaging Detection and Ranging) systems used in vehicles to sense objects in front of them do not always “see” motorcycles, bicycles or pedestrians.

In addition to self-driving cars, many cars now come with what's known as adaptive cruise control, (ACC), which is designed to automatically slow the car down when it senses something in front of it. There are 3 different types of ACC – some that only work when driving at higher speeds, some that bring a car to a complete stop and need to be manually reactivated to work again, and some that bring a car to a complete stop but automatically resume.

These systems have also been found to be less than 100% reliable when it comes to sensing smaller vehicles like motorcycles or bicycles.

The ACEM study found that the detection sensors in the cars they were testing just were not sensitive enough to see a motorcycle, and bicycles were detected even less. Research compiled by the professional organization for engineering and applied sciences found that even the latest computer software, high-definition vehicle cameras and motion-sensing algorithms detected other passenger vehicles 90% of the time, but only sensed bicycles less than 75% of the time.

Another critical element of cars seeing what's in front of them is the position or direction of travel of the object, in this case a bicycle. If a car's computer radar sensors think a bike is about to cross its path going from right to left, it can act accordingly to avoid a collision. But if the bike is stationary and facing the same direction as the approaching car, like when a cyclist is waiting at a stop light, the study showed that the car's sensors could only detect its direction of travel 59% of the time.

Some experts on the subject say that the systems being tested for use in the future are too focused on sensing cars, and not enough on motorcycles, bicycles or pedestrians. They also point to cyclists, bikers and pedestrians themselves as part of the problem, and the human error factor. Autonomous vehicles, even with the most highly developed levels of computer-aided navigation, sometimes cannot anticipate sudden, erratic or reckless actions by a person. Self-driving cars would be a much simpler concept if they were all that way, but autonomous vehicles sharing the road with those driven by humans can present many dangerous scenarios.

Florida Plays Big Role in AV Testing

There have been many stories lately of AV's being involved in a crash when the car's sensors apparently did not detect another vehicle in its path, several involving Florida drivers. News reports say that cars, often Tesla models, driving in auto pilot mode, failed to detect things like a large semi truck, in one case. As a personal injury law firm, we've heard the projection that as AV's become the rule rather than the exception, crashes will be reduced by as much as 90%. We don't know if that will hold true, and think that only time will tell.

The state of Florida appears to be on the forefront of development and testing of AV's, and the technology is still relatively new. The Florida Department of Transportation is building a facility called SunTrax, a sprawling testing and research compound where the 2.5-mile oval test track alone cost $42 million dollars. Plans call for a 200+ acre infield where engineers and scientists will build testing facilities that resemble real-world driving situations, like a city's downtown at rush hour and an airport drop-off area.  Suntrax is in Auburndale, which is in Central Florida's Polk County.

Other companies, like San Francisco-based Starsky Robotics, have already completed successful test runs of their autonomous truck vehicles on Florida's Turnpike. Florida's warm climate and open expanses of vacant land make it an appealing place to build test facilities. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that took effect July 1, 2019, that allows fully autonomous vehicles to operate on Florida's roads without any driver in the front seat to take over should anything go wrong. But, that type of driving has only been done under testing guidelines, and not as a widespread practice.

Florida personal injury attorney, Sheba Abraham, points out that there are always different potential scenarios that may come about involving AV's. “Until the driverless technology is completely perfected and foolproof, you're going to continue to see crashes involving them,” she says. “There have been instances where an autonomous car has hit a pedestrian, and a self-driving Uber car in Arizona struck and killed a woman on a bicycle – the whole industry has quite a long road ahead of it to perfect their systems.”

It's no secret who suffers the more serious injuries when a motor vehicle – either autonomous or not – hits a biker, cyclist or someone on foot. There are many who say they would never ride in a driverless car because they just don't trust what they may or may not do. There are also a whole new set of concerns involving a crash with an AV, like exactly who should be held responsible. We've written more about that here.

Human error is responsible for over 90% of motor vehicle crashes in the United States. But, it appears that driverless vehicle technology has a long way to go to help to reduce that statistic.

The Goldberg Noone Law Firm is a personal injury firm that helps people receive financial compensation for their injuries if they've been hurt in a crash caused by someone else's negligence, carelessness or recklessness. We are always glad to answer any questions you may have, and it never costs a thing to get our input. Call our Fort Myers or Cape Coral office at 239-461-5508, or fill out the form on the right of this page and we'll reach out to you immediately

About the Author

Scot D. Goldberg

Scot Goldberg is a founding partner of the Goldberg Law Firm. See his attorney profile for more information.

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