Researchers call for autonomous vehicles to learn the language of cyclists

Cockpit of futuristic autonomous car. Windscreen technology

Self-driving cars “need to learn the language of cyclists”, according to specialists from the University of Glasgow.

Their research suggested improvements to help autonomous vehicles safely share the roads with those rigid bicycles to be necessary.

Released later in 2023, the paper which the research was conducted is titled ‘Keep it Real: Investigating Driver-Cyclist Interaction in Real-World Traffic’. The researchers looked to unpick the relationship between cyclists and automated vehicles, saying there has been “comparatively little” research into how self-driving technology can keep cyclists safe.

According to the university’s School of Computing Science’s Professor Stephen Brewster, there had been “a lot of research in recent years on building safety features into autonomous vehicles to help keep pedestrians safe”, something that needs to be repeated with cyclists.

He said: “Cars and bikes share the same spaces on the roads, which can be dangerous – between 2015 and 2020, 84 per cent of fatal bike accidents involved a motor vehicle, and there were more than 11,000 collisions.

“There has been a lot of research in recent years on building safety features into autonomous vehicles to help keep pedestrians safe, but comparatively little on how automated vehicles can safely share the road with cyclists.

“That’s a cause for concern as automated vehicles become more commonplace on the roads. While pedestrians tend to meet automated vehicles in highly controlled situations like road crossings, cyclists ride alongside cars for prolonged periods and rely on two-way interactions with drivers to determine each other’s intentions.

“It’s a much more complicated set of behaviours, which makes it a big challenge for future generations of automated vehicles to tackle. Currently, self-driving cars offer very little direct feedback to cyclists to help them make critically important decisions like whether it’s safe to overtake or to switch lanes. Adding any guesswork to the delicate negotiations between car and bike has the potential to make the roads less safe.”

The ways motorists and cyclists directly and indirectly communicate in real-world situations was the main focus of Brewster’s team. From the research they have forced recommendations for future generations of automated vehicles.

The researchers propose that the intentions of the cars might be shown on their exteriors, such as by showing animations signifying intention to accelerate, decelerate, give way, or manoeuvre.

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