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

AV crash

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.

  • 1980Gardener

    1) I don’t understand what you mean that the punishment for not wearing the sensor is death. That makes no sense – it is not required – merely an added safety feature, like a reflective vest while running.

    2) As for the cost, of course the cyclist would pay – who else would? And why wouldn’t the cyclist pay for her own things? The benefit of the technology is clear – that is why I would be so excited to get one. It seems bizarre that someone would not want to take a simple step to add safety.

  • kevd

    1) if the technology it not good enough to avoid cyclists who lack a sensor (which Uber has demonstrated it is not) then the punishment for not having a transponder obviously is a significantly higher rate of death and injury.

    2) If my likelihood of death or injury is increased by a technology that is introduced, the beneficiaries of that technology (not me) should pay whatever costs are incurred to return my level of safety to what it was before the introduction of that technology.

    The basic point is that if the technology is DECREASING my safety, not increasing it (which Uber has shown it it), the burden of returning my level safety to what it was previously (the transponder) should be on those who are introducing and benefiting from that technology, not on those whose safety has been compromised by that new technology.

  • 1980Gardener

    1) That is no different than having a light on your bike – we do that because headlights are not sufficient to see us.

    2) I think you should keep in mind the word “If” when talking about risk of death or injury – only time will tell. And who do you expect to buy the sensor for you? Should this person/entity also buy me my running vest (so that I don’t get hit by cars, buses or cyclists) or the lights on my bike (so that cars can see me)?

    I think the fundamental issue here is that when you use public resources, you should expect to take at least basic, simple measures to function as part of the transport system. The world does not, and will not, revolve around you.

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