What am I talking about? Well, something that has raised a small ripple across the cesspool of publicity and other nonsense that comes with the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. In this case, it’s bike related.
It’s all to do with the much talked about but still nascent technology that is driverless cars. One of the problems that comes with this technology is the software has a really hard time identifying and dealing with (that hopefully means avoiding) bikes, pedestrians and other road users that don’t fit the car/truck template.
One of the factors is unpredictability; like pedestrians stepping out from lines of parked traffic, or at busy junctions, or bikes going up the inside and outside of vehicles in traffic, or making sudden moves, or… well you get the picture. It’s the sort of stuff human drivers struggle with already.
Trek have been working in partnership with Tome Software to create what’s called a B2V (Bicycle to Vehicle) communication system (‘Beacons’) to tell driverless cars that there’s a bike up ahead and what its doing. Trek Electronics Product Manager Scott Kasin says:
We want to ensure that while cyclists have the tools and knowledge to do what they can to create a safer experience, they will now have the enhanced ability to communicate their presence directly to vehicles.
Well isn’t that fine and dandy? Er, not quite in my view.
While it’s all very well to push this concept – and it’s sufficiently matured for Ford to now collaborate with them – my initial thought is this is a negative approach. Rather than getting the primary software to function properly, the idea puts the onus on the bike rider to have one of these damn ‘Beacons’ to stay safe.
Imagine a situation somewhere down the line where it becomes illegal to ride (or even walk) without one? Or insurance companies refuse to cover or payout unless you have one? How about if the device is used as evidence in a criminal prosecution against you?
It puts the whole blame thing and responsibility onto the most vulnerable road users when the root cause is most often the actions of drivers and in future, the vehicle software. And it introduces yet another means of tracking and gathering data on the population.
I hate the idea. But I think we will be railroaded into accepting this technology. I don’t blame Trek; they are working with the best intentions to keep cyclists safe, but it shifts responsibility off the software companies and motor manufacturers where it rightly belongs. Those manufacturers are desperate for cities NOT to ban the car full stop, which would be the most effective way to reduce current pollution levels and speed up transit times, while cutting road deaths and injuries.
In America, you can be prosecuted for jaywalking, a crime which as far as I can tell didn’t exist until the motor industry invented it to promote car use. It’s not hard to see parallels with this ‘Beacon’ technology.
I’d like to see cars restricted from city centres. I’d like to see driverless technology that’s so safe people voluntarily choose to use bikes – as much for the fun of it as for the health and fitness benefits. I’d like to see people choosing to walk instead of drive.
Sadly, this idea – in my view – is a blocker to that kind of progress.