Google Self-Driving Cars Now Recognize Cyclists’ Hand Signals, Bird Flipping Optional

While Tesla Motors has been in the news recently for self-driving Autopilot hijinks for all the wrong reasons, Google is chalking up another positive aspect of its fully autonomous driving fleet. Google’s self-driving vehicles have racked up over 1.7 million miles in fully autonomous mode (mostly in California) and in the process have learned a lot about the drivers that they come in contact with on a daily basis. But what about cyclists?

Google announced via its monthly self-driving car report [PDF] that its fleet has been upgraded to pay particularly close attention to cyclists, and even recognize their hand signals (if they bother to throw up any) to give them save passage through roadways. Google’s bevy of sensors read these hand signals as an “indication of an intention” when it comes to making turns or shifting lanes, and takes appropriate action given the situation. Google’s self-driving algorithms have also been programmed to better anticipate the behavior of a typical cyclist, even without hand signals.

google self driving

And while motorists can often get aggressive or even a bit annoyed at cyclists sharing the road, Google’s self-driving cars have been programmed to give them a wide berth. “We [give] cyclists ample buffer room when we pass, and our cars won’t squeeze by when cyclists take the center of the lane, even if there’s technically enough space,” Google writes. “Whether the road is too narrow or they’re making a turn, we respect this indication that cyclists want to claim their lane.”

Google’s cameras can see 360 degrees, even at night, so this gives the vehicles a heightened since of alertness when a cyclist is traveling on roadways at night. And the vehicles have been trained to identify multiple types of self-propelled vehicles including unicycles, tandem bikes, bikes with car seats and bikes with extremely large wheels. No matter the type, Google’s self-driving cars will be aware of your presence and will do their best not to send you to the hospital with a broken leg or arm (or worse).

Back in June, Google touted another addition to its self-driving car repertoire — autonomous horn honking.