Google’s new self-driving car met a cyclist at a four-way stop in Austin, Texas earlier this month. Although it is nothing really new as the self-driving cars from Google have driven more than 1.1 million miles, this encounter was still a special one as the cyclist was doing a track stand.
Google cars cannot understand a track stand
The encounter was recounted by the cyclist on an online bike forum. The car reached the stop line just before the cyclist arrived. The cyclist performed a track stand and waited for the car to move, but the track stand became a problem for the car.
In a track stand, a biker moves forward and backward slightly to maintain his balance on the bike. However, self-driving cars are designed to be very careful, so if they sense any vehicle moving in their path, they will brake and this is what happened during this encounter.
The body of the cyclist doing a track-stand is in a position similar to a cyclist in motion than to a cyclist who has stopped. A track stand means a cyclist never has to put his foot down on the pavement while waiting at the stop signs and red lights. A human driver can easily make out a cyclist is doing a track-stand, but apparently Google’s self-driving cars cannot.
Cyclist felt safe with the car
The cyclist recounts that the Google car stayed stationary for several seconds as it detected his presence. “It finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. The car immediately stopped…,” the cyclist wrote. A few seconds later, the car started to move again and for maintaining the balance the cyclist had to rock the bike. So, the car again stopped, abruptly. This process went on for almost two minutes and “the car never made it past the middle of the intersection.”
Although such an encounter with Google self-driving cars was awkward, but the cyclist did not have a negative impression of the car. “The odd thing is,” the cyclist said, “I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one.” Self-driving cars could be a boon for cycling as the autonomous vehicles almost never crash, but for now they have to overcome the challenge of cyclists performing track stands.