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Patent Shows How Google’s Self-Driving Cars Recognize Bicyclists

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Bicyclist hand signals, courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation's Colorado Bicycling Manual: A Guide to Safe Bicycling

Bicyclist hand signals, courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation’s Colorado Bicycling Manual: A Guide to Safe Bicycling

Google has a new patent that will make it possible for self-driving cars to interpret the hand signals of bicyclists, as Matt McFarland writes for The Washington Post. Although Google announced this system a year ago, the patent explains how it actually works, McFarland writes.

Let’s say a cyclist who wants to make a turn or change lanes motions with his or her hand or arm. The Google system’s sensors (a camera, LIDAR and RADAR) combine to provide data on the area that surrounds the self-driving vehicle, McFarland writes. Algorithms in the system are able to determine from that data if a cyclist is present, and they can also identify parts of that cyclist’s body and the signals they’re making, McFarland writes. Once the Google system recognizes that, it adjusts the self-driving car’s speed or direction as it needs to, he adds.

McFarland details some of the logic of the system:

First, the car has to know it’s dealing with a cyclist and not something else. Google says it could examine how the height of the potential cyclist compares with the average height of cyclists it has encountered previously. If the distance between the top of your head and the pavement is in a certain range, you’re probably riding a bike. It may also analyze heights of potential cyclists when they’re stopped at lights and straddling their bikes.

The system is designed to know the difference between a bicyclist’s hand signal for a turn and a stop, McFarland writes. A shorter distance between the cyclist’s hand and head would indicate a turn signal, whereas a longer distance “probably” indicates slowing or stopping, he writes. The system might also take into account the degree of the angle of the cyclist’s elbow as he or she is bending his or her arm, McFarland writes, plus the size and shape of the cyclist’s head, arms, and hands. According to the patent, the system may make it possible for self-driving cars to differentiate between scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, and bicycles, McFarland writes.

In another recent news item of interest to bicyclists, Jason Brick writes for PSFK about a solar-powered electric bike that is different from other solar-powered ones because it has no plug-in option. “It allows those really dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint to choose a bike that fully supports—even forces—them to live according to that dedication,” Brick writes. This makes Solar Bike 100% clean and renewable, as it does not even have “the small CO2 signature” of those bikes that can be charged by plugging them into the power grid, Brick writes.

Solar Bike is designed to be like any bicycle except for the solar panels in the spoke areas of its wheels, Brick writes. As they absorb solar energy, they charge the bike’s battery when it is moving and when it is at rest, he adds.

Although Solar Bike’s motor can get the bike moving at 16 to 31 miles per hour, which is a bit faster than most electric bikes, it takes longer than most to charge, Brick writes, charging only up to 16 miles’ worth per day in optimal sunlight conditions. It can hold about 43.5 miles worth of charge, although its range will vary depending on speed and terrain, plus how much the rider assists through pedaling, he writes.

The Solar Bike website does not yet provide information on where to buy the Solar Bike, but it provides contact information for more information. Here is a video showing Solar Bike in motion:

The CDOT provides an online map to help bicyclists choose the best routes in Colorado. The department will mail you a hard copy of the map if you send your name and address to:



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