Machine readable bikes

Monday, October 17, 2016
by Cameron Shelley

I was interested to see in Ben Coxworth's brief piece in New Atlas an item about a gadget designed to make bicycles more visible to radar-equipped cars

The "Shield TL" is a kind of souped-up rear light that can be attached to a bicycle.  Besides the usual blinking red light, the Shield TL has a baffle shaped to create a large reflection when struck by radar of the type used by driving assist technology in high-end vehicles. 

The point is that the Shield TL will increase a bike's profile to the radar, thus helping cars to detect and avoid it.  Apparently, these radars can have a difficult time "seeing" bikes otherwise.

I am reminded of Geoff Manaugh's point that we are seeing the rise of the machine-readable roadway, that is, a transition to a roadway configured to be legible to (semi-)automated safety and navigation systems.

Efforts like the Shield TL aim to increase safety for cyclists in such a roadway.  Perhaps such gadgets will even become mandatory, as reflectors and lights are today.

Still, I wonder if future versions of gadgets like the Shield TL will become more manipulative.  Charlie Sorrel at FastCompany points out that Mercedes' self-driving cars will be programmed to save their occupants in the event of accidents, even if that means sacrificing others on the roadway.

Company spokesman Christoph von Hugo says this decision reflects the fact that Mercedes' engineers can control mainly what happens to the occupants of their cars and not the multitude of other things that may be going on in the environment.

Future versions of gadgets like the Shield TL may attempt to manipulate the sensor systems of cars more forcefully, in an effort to increase the safety of their owners.  Perhaps a bike could be made to appear larger or otherwise more worthy of avoidance.  Then, radar systems would have to be programmed to consider the possibility of such deceptions.  And so on.

Gagdets like the Shield TL suggest that the environment, and the people in it, may assume an active rather than a passive role in the conduct of self-driving cars.

Courtesy of Illumaware/Kickstarter.