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Hipster Bikes Are Confusing Google's Self-Driving Cars

(CBS SF) -- In the 1.1 million miles driven in autonomous mode, Google's self-driving cars have had lots of practice dealing with bicycles.

But earlier this month an Austin cyclist had a strange encounter with one of the cars at a four-way stop, according to the Washington Post.

The cyclist wasn't riding any ordinary bike, but rather a fixed-bike, or "fixies," a popular choice for young people navigating city streets in style (aka hipsters).

The cyclist posted about his experience on an online bike forum:

The car got to the stop line a fraction of a second before I did, so it had the [right of way]. I did a track-stand and waited for it to continue on through.

A track stand is what many fixie cyclists do at stop signs to stay upright without having to put a foot on the ground for stability. The cyclist pedals both forward and backwards while moving a minimal distance.

It works like this:

track stand 101 by robertfetner on YouTube

Apparently this said Google self-driving car had trouble understanding what was going on.

The cyclist goes on to say:

It apparently detected my presence … and stayed stationary for several seconds. it finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. The car immediately stopped…

I continued to stand, it continued to stay stopped. Then as it began to move again, I had to rock the bike to maintain balance. It stopped abruptly.

We repeated this little dance for about two full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. The two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop.

The cyclist handled the situation calmly, even applauded the technology.

"The odd thing is," wrote the cyclist, "I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one."

A Google spokesperson told the Post it was a good example of feedback the company wants to get to better improve its software for real-world driving.

Nicole Jones is a digital producer for CBS San Francisco. Follow her musings @nicjonestweets


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