AUTOMATED VEHICLES: Google's driverless car will yield to cyclists, pedestrians

July 8, 2016

The company's self-driving vehicles will be able to recognize cyclists' hand signals among other gestures

According to Google’s most recent monthly self-driving report, the company’s self-driving car now not only knows how to navigate around cyclists but can recognize, understand and remember their hand signals.

This is an important aspect for a self-driving car that shares the roads with pedestrians and manually driven cars. While automakers and tech companies can outfit a car with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to enable communication between two cars or between cars and things like traffic signals, communicating with a pedestrian or bicyclist is much more difficult.

A robot car needs to not only be able to communicate its intentions to pedestrians but also understand a pedestrian’s intentions. Detecting and understanding human gestures is a hugely important part of that. That means the technology is ostensibly capable of understanding things like a pedestrian waving a car by when it’s, say, at a stop sign.

Google’s robot car will even surrender the entire lane to the cyclist if they’re showing signs of moving closer. It might strike some drivers as overly polite, but for a robot-driven car, erring on the cautious side while navigating around humans is probably the best bet.

“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’s report read. “Whether the road is too narrow or they’re making a turn, we respect this indication that cyclists want to claim their lane.”