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Google patent reveals how driverless cars recognise hand signals

Brush up on your arm-waving, automatic cars are a-coming

Remember those hand signals you haven't used since you did Cycling Proficiency because you discovered having your hands on the brakes in traffic was more life-preserving than waving at motorists? Better brush up on them if Google's self-driving cars ever make it to the roads.

Matt McFarland of the Washington Post reports that Google has patented a way for its driverless cars to recognise cyclists' hand signals.

Google announced that its car technology could anticipate cyclists' movements from hand signals in this video last year:

Google has now revealed that what its system looks out for is the rider's hands, and it assesses their distance from the rider's head to determine whether it's seeing a left turn signal, a right turn signal or the dropped left hand that designates a stop in North America.

The car figures all this out from data collected by cameras, radar and lidar (the equivalent of radar, but using lasers instead of beams of radio waves) processed by its onboard computer.

Google's patent lists a broad range of things the car could do with the data it accumulates, including learning to better recognise what is and isn't a cyclist and a hand signal.


How Google's driverless car sees a signalling cyclist

That's not to say the system actually does that. Patents are written in a special language all of their own that attempts to encompass all possibilities arising from the technology to protect other ideas the inventor may have. But it hints at what Google's thinking: not just cars that recognise other road users, but that get better at doing so with practice.

For those who like wrapping their brains around patentese, the whole thing is on line: Cyclist hand signal detection by an autonomous vehicle.

The patent doesn't mention whether Google's system will be able to recognise any of the numerous signals cyclists use for "You almost killed me, you idiot," when the car is being driven manually or whether it will then administer suitable chastisement to the driver. But it sounds like it'll learn them quickly enough.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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