The Automotive Industry, Briefly

Cars that Can Read Hand Signals

08.02.16 - Google Car

If you want a car that can read the hand signals when driving you might find yourself and your vehicle offended. The last time I checked there was typically only one hand signal used on the roads from driver to driver and it’s not a pleasant one at all. When it comes to the ability to understand hand signals the ones that matter on the road are those which are used by cyclists as they ride their bikes around. While I’m not exactly sure how many cyclists use hand signals anymore, these are important indicators of the intentions of the cyclist that should be understood by cars before we have fully autonomous vehicles.

Imagine owning a car that is offered as fully autonomous but you end up running over a cyclist while on the road because the car was not programmed to understand what a cyclist is and how to share the road. We don’t have autonomous driving yet and it seems we don’t know how to share the road with cyclists as it is. In 2014 over 50,000 cyclists were injured and 720 were killed in the US alone, mostly because we don’t share the road well.

Thankfully Google is attempting to understand all the nuances of driving that need to be considered. This includes learning the hand signals given by cyclists while on the road. Not only are the small bubble shaped Google Cars attempting to understand hand signals, they are also being programmed to predict what cyclists will do on the road. These self-driving cars are learning what a cyclist’s path might be and what hand signals mean regarding their intentions on the road. By logging hand signals that were used during previous encounters these cars will be able to accurately understand and predict what drivers intend to do during the next ride in the same location.

Not only are the Google Cars learning what different hand signals mean they are more aware of cyclists for two reasons. The first being these cars are able to see 360 degrees around them. This makes them able to see and discern a cyclist on the road. What makes this great is the Google Cars can even see a cyclist at night as clear as it does during the day, which we certainly can’t do with our own limited vision where we miss many objects at night.

Another way the Google Car is better than we are is the fact it has been programmed to share the road with cyclists. Rather than attempt to pass a cyclist when they are in the same lane as the Google Car it will wait and only go past when the cyclist has moved a safe distance away from the car. This is an activity many of us who drive on the roads will feel we cannot tolerate and feel we need to pass a cyclist just because there appears to be enough space to do so in the lane. This is how many accidents have taken place over the years between cars and cyclists.

Being able to detect cyclists, understand hand signals and even predict the path a cyclist may take will help the Google Car be a much safer driver than most of us can be from behind the wheel on our own. Add to this the fact the car will wait for a cyclist to be a safe distance away and it can detect a cyclist on any type of bike during the day and the night using 360 degree vision, this is a step in the right direction toward the safety autonomous vehicles are going to offer when they are finally offered to the public.



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