Will autonomous vehicles ever be able to handle chaotic cycling behavior?


I love cycle racing. Two-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome is my hero. I even rode in France’s annual La Marmotte cycling event once, way back in 2006 (below). I’m not particularly talented at cycling, but I like to improve, stay fit, beat my friends on the Strava cycling app, and just enjoy the Dutch countryside.

Once or twice a week my bike also takes me to Amsterdam to the RAI Exhibition and Convention Center offices – where in April this year we hosted the fantastic Intertraffic Amsterdam event. The journey takes me more than an hour and a half, but it is always worth it.

As I’m supposed to be a specialist in the field of traffic technology, cycling through the city of Amsterdam is an experience of its own. There are hardly any traffic rules when you’re on a bike; cyclists can be unpredictable road users. Whereas the first 70 minutes of my trip are spent quietly pedaling through the countryside, the final 20 minutes in the city involve ignoring traffic signs and only stopping to avoid colliding with buses and trams. It’s about navigating left, right, under and over, going with the flow, and not stopping until I arrive at my destination: the RAI offices. It’s a crazy world and as a racing cyclist, I’m even more vulnerable with my bike’s small-tubed tire wheels and my somewhat anti-social riding behavior.

It’s at times like this when I think about automated driving – one of the main topics at Intertraffic Amsterdam 2016. Automated driving is fast approaching, but it will be a long time before computers in cars can cope with the amount of cyclists and pedestrians in a busy city like Amsterdam. Our brains are still the fastest computers on earth.

Confirmation of this thought comes from Maarten Sierhuis, a keynote speaker at the Intertraffic show and managing director at the Nissan Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, in the USA. Sierhuis is tasked with developing autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles and human-machine interactions and during his presentation in April, he showed a short movie that nailed the situations that I face when cycling through the city. It’s astonishing how a big brand like Nissan is focusing so much of their attention on human-machine interaction.

I’m looking forward to the moment when successful human-machine interaction is achieved and the impact it will have on me as a racing cyclist. Will us cyclists have to be more careful? I think so, but I am pretty sure that we will get used to it very quickly. And when cars reach the level of being self-sufficient and completely autonomous (hands off the wheel), hopefully I will still be able to ride my bike.

‘Our man in Amsterdam’ Richard Butter is manager of Intertraffic worldwide events

July 6, 2016

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