Cyclists Pump The Brakes On Autonomous Vehicles: AAA Warns Pedestrian Detection Technology Does Not Work

The tech industry is replete with pronouncements that data is the new gold, but data is exponentially more valuable than gold because data can be infinitely recombined, repackaged and resold in perpetuity.  The tech and automotive industry’s insatiable quest for new data streams is costing pedestrians and cyclists their lives.

Vehicle manufacturers dream of filling their showrooms with autonomous, futuristic looking, LED bedazzled, fetishized, multimedia immersive and addictive, rolling data geysers to profile and monetize their occupants via a myriad of internal sensors and cameras, and their vehicle’s surroundings via a plethora of external sensors and cameras.

Vehicle manufacturers are lining up to incorporate artificial intelligence driven behavioral analysis to determine your emotional state in real time.

“[We want] holistic automotive AI systems that not only look outside the vehicle [… but] also look inside the vehicle,” said Taniya Mishra, the company’s director of AI research, on stage at EmTech Digital, an event organized by MIT Technology Review. “We want AI to know what is the mental and emotional state of people inside the car.”

Affectiva “hopes to be among the top players in the automotive market” providing AI that can take over when it determines it’s more capable than the human driver.

“The next generation of high-end cars will come equipped with software and hardware (cameras and microphones, for now) to analyze drivers’ attentiveness, irritation, and other states. This capacity is already being tested in semiautonomous cars, which will have to make informed judgments about when it’s safe to hand control to a driver, and when to take over because a driver is too distracted or upset to focus on the road.”

Insurance companies salivate at the prospect of data so granular they can refuse claims because your car felt that you were angry, emotionally incompetent or driving 2 miles over the speed limit.  While Life360 is a location-sharing app aimed at families, Allstate’s use of its driving data is easy to extrapolate to our future rolling omnopticons.

“And the company is using that data to, well, sell car insurance. According to the company’s privacy policy, it shares your “personal information, driving event data, and other information,” with the risk-assessment firm Arity, which uses that information to calculate insurance pricing and “develop risk-predictive models for its own analytics purposes.” Arity is a subsidiary of the insurance giant Allstate, which is also an investor in Life360.”

Uber and Lyft see autonomous vehicles as the solution to excising their most costly and annoying line item: human drivers.

With these industries, and Wall Street investors, salivating at huge potential profits it’s easy to understand the forces prematurely driving autonomous vehicles into the mainstream.

Back in the real world, where pedestrians and cyclists share the road with vehicles: AAA warns us all that the most basic autonomous technology, pedestrian detection,” fails spectacularly.

If the most rudimentary of autonomous vehicle technology utterly fails, with human lives in their path, we feel it’s time to pump the brakes on autonomous vehicles.  AAA states:

“New research from AAA reveals that automatic emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection perform inconsistently, and proved to be completely ineffective at night. An alarming result, considering 75% of pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. The systems were also challenged by real-world situations, like a vehicle turning right into the path of an adult. AAA’s testing found that in this simulated scenario, the systems did not react at all, colliding with the adult pedestrian target every time. For the safety of everyone on the road, AAA supports the continued development of pedestrian detection systems, specifically when it comes to improving functionality at night and in circumstances where drivers are most likely to encounter pedestrians.”

The Wall Street Journal’s article “New Cars’ Pedestrian-Safety Features Fail in Deadliest Situations, Study Finds” ominously states:

Nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in U.S. traffic accidents in 2017, the latest year data were available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was up 35% from 2008, even though fatalities involving vehicle occupants were down 7% in the same period, NHTSA data show.

…At 20 miles an hour, the cars struggled with each test, AAA found. The child was struck 89% of the time, and all of the cars hit the pedestrian dummy after making a right turn. The systems were generally ineffective if the car was going 30 mph. The systems were also completely ineffective at night, Mr. Brannon said, the deadliest time for pedestrians. Three-quarters of all pedestrian fatalities occur after dark, according to AAA.

When testers drove the cars directly at a dummy crossing the road in the dark, however, the system failed not only to stop or slow the car but also to provide any alert of a pedestrian’s presence before a collision.

The tech industry is notorious for the Zuckerberg credo: “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

Autonomous vehicles are not like smart phone apps where if they fail spectacularly the only casualty is a million dollars in Silicon Valley pocket change.

The brakes need to be pumped on these market forces to save the lives of all vulnerable road users.



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  1. Koonzjh on October 17, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    I thought I was against driver-less cars until I saw this great youtube about them:

    Now, I am completely opposed to driver-less cars! This short video gets into all kinds of ethical dilemmas that will arise when we allow these machines on our streets. Check out the part about bikes at 6:45. This guy has a really interesting take on the subject and his video has provided me with some great ammo when I have to argue against allowing these automated killing machines.

    Still, I might try and teach my dog to drive a car, like was done in the video.

    john k

    • CyclistVideoEvidence on October 17, 2019 at 11:51 pm

      Thanks for sharing this excellent video John.

      “The guy,” who never reveals his name in the video, on his youtube channel or on his website, has communication super powers.

      We hope our article, above, helps to highlight the market forces prematurely forcing this technology onto our roads.

      This guy does an excellent job scratching the surface of the dilemmas and dangers autonomous vehicles inject into our roads.

      All cyclists should be required to watch the segment on bicycles in this video.


    • california.cyclist on October 24, 2019 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks for sharing the video. Very informative, common-sense information.

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