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Self-driving cars

Wear a Sensor Everywhere Just to Stay Alive? No Thanks.

At a vehicle tech conference in Geneva this week, a bike industry representative raised the prospect that cyclists will have to be equipped with sensors in order to be detected by self-driving cars.

Carlton Reid at BikeBiz first reported the comments from Manuel Marsilio, general manager of the Confederation for the European Bicycle Industry, who was speaking at the "Symposium on the Future of the Networked Car."

The idea that everyone will have to wear sensors to avoid getting killed by self-driving cars is one of the hellish scenarios futurists discuss when imagining how cities will operate with autonomous vehicles. The National Association of City Transportation Officials has said that safe operation of AVs without relying on external sensors should be non-negotiable.

So it's alarming to hear someone in the bike industry talk as though he's ready to negotiate.

Detecting people and bicycles is seen as one of the more difficult challenges as AV technology develops. Uber's self-driving system was obviously poorly equipped to deal with the fairly routine occurrence of someone crossing a street outside a crosswalk, and it cost Elaine Herzberg her life.

Rather than insist that vehicle manufacturers refine their technology so people can walk and bike safely around self-driving cars, Marsilio, pressed by Reid, said he could imagine a future where sensors would be mandatory for cyclists.

Maybe Marsilio was thinking of "don't-kill-me" sensors as one more gizmo to sell. But they're obviously a nightmare for people who want to move freely without being inside a car. If you forget your sensor or just can't afford one, you'd be marked for death.

Maybe autonomous vehicle technology will deliver a safer transportation system one day. But they'll have to do it without external sensors on every human.

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