All cyclists will need to fit detection beacons, says cycle industry boss

Many lives would be saved if cyclists used “bicycle-to-vehicle” sensors,  a cycle industry association boss told automotive leaders at an event on the first day of the Geneva Motor Show.

Manuel Marsilio, general manager of the Confederation for the European Bicycle Industry was speaking at the ‘Future Networked Car’ symposium. This brought together motorcar manufacturers, information and communication technology industries, governments and regulators to discuss the status and future of vehicle-to-vehicle communications and automated driving.​

“Bicycles will definitely have to communicate with other vehicles,” said Marsilio, who was also representing the World Bicycle Industry Association at the symposium.

It is the goal of the “connected car” industry to make cyclists use sensors or beacons so they can be detected more easily. (Such sensors could be passive transponders or, even easier, signals from a smartphone.) Currently, "erratic" cyclists are hard to detect by autonomous vehicles. And pedestrians, too, are often not spotted by a plethora of detection devices on even the most tricked-out "driverless cars". 

For instance, on Sunday, 49-year old Elaine Herzberg was hit and killed by a self-driving Uber car while she was crossing a road with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona. The car’s LiDAR system should have detected her in plenty of time and applied the brakes, but didn’t. (Dashcam footage shows that the Uber driver was looking at her lap at the time of the collision instead of paying attention to the road as she should have been doing.)

There have been many versions of so-called bicycle-to-vehicle communication systems down the years. BikeBiz talked to an American inventor of such a system in 2003, and the latest is B2V detection work done by tech company Tome Software and Trek Bicycle, as reported on BikeBiz earlier this year.

B2V is a new addition to the Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything technology. C-V2X connects equiped vehicles to a larger communications system allowing them to communicate with other vehicles, pedestrian devices, cyclists and roadside infrastructure, such as traffic signs and construction zones. 

B2V-enabled equipment gives alerts directly to approaching vehicles fitted with corresponding detection devices. The downside, of course, is that not all cycles will be equipped with beacons or other B2V alert methods, so the tech is far from a panacea. And pedestrians, too, would also need to use beacons, showing that "smart" cars are a long way off being truly smart, a point raised by transport correspondent Christian Wolmar in this BikeBiz-connected podcast.

Marsilio featured the Trek and Tome collaboration in his Geneva talk.

“We need to find solutions to make cycling safer,” he said.

“It is not easy for human drivers to see cyclists on the roads, to predict their movements, and at the same time bicycles are generally considered the most difficult detection problem that vehicles systems are currently facing.”

Marsilio told automotive leaders at the symposium that cycle use was growing, partly because of worries around air quality and congestion, but he added “the major concern without any doubts for the bicycle industry is safety. Indeed, we need to find solutions to make cycling safer. 

"Some cyclists know how they’re supposed to behave and sometimes, unfortunately, they don’t want to behave in a safe and respectful way. Some drivers don’t know how to properly share the road with cyclists.

“Moreover, infrastructure in many places doesn’t facilitate peaceful coexistence on the same roadways between cars and cyclists therefore the bicycle industry has started to work on creating [artificial intelligence]-based bicycle-to-vehicle communication systems to help drivers get alerts.”

Marsilio said that the bicycle industry is working on tech with open standards and that “bicycles will definitely have to communicate with the other vehicles as well as with infrastructure.”

By this he means traffic lights. Motorists of the future, just like cyclists of the future, may be prevented from running reds via connected technologies.

“This interaction will allow road users and traffic managers to share information and to use it to coordinate their actions. The cooperative element enabled by digital connectivity will significantly improve road safety and traffic efficiency by helping cyclists and the other road users to take the right decision and adapt to the traffic situations,” said Marsilio.

“The bicycle industry deems that the proper deployment of harmonized connected services is key to this objective and agrees that interoperability is a must – it is unacceptable that road users nowadays could die on roads because vehicles cannot communicate with each other due to non interoperable communication technologies.”

He added: “Boosting user uptake requires an appropriate regulatory environment.”

Cyclists forced by law to fit beacons? Could be, although BikeBiz has asked Marsilio if that is what he meant. (Update: he replied that CONEBI was not in favour of compulsory use of bike beacons.)

An audience member asked Marsilio whether everybody having beacons fitted, via connected telematics, would exclude child cyclists who may not have cellphones.

“We don’t know what’s gonna happen in 20 years, if we’re all gonna have chips in our bodies," said Marsilio, "but to be frank I think it’s a matter of safety and we will have to find solutions for everybody’s safety so if that means we all have to have smart phones or smart watches or whatever it is to make everybody safe well, let’s see but that should be the direction that we have to follow.”

He added: “Bicycles of the near future will have sensors that will allow cyclists to be detected by car drivers. It’s not a [case] of putting a chip in bodies or to force everybody to have a smart watch, the main idea is to have bicycles equipped with the necessary equipment in order to be able to be connected with all vehicles."

Another audience member pointed out: “The problem usually isn’t the cyclist it’s the vehicle driver; certainly in London they’re unable to not drive in cycle lanes or obey the rules of the road so telling [drivers] there are bicycles on the road actually doesn’t improve safety that much. It also needs to something in the vehicle to make drivers drive where they should.”

Marsilio agreed: “It’s a behavioural problem. It goes on both sides – it’s not just the person driving a car that is not behaving, it’s not the cyclist not behaving sometimes you see people not behaving by driving their cars, sometimes you see you see cyclists shouting to car drivers even if they’re wrong so it’s a behaviour problem.

“From a cycling point of view London is becoming a great city – you have cycling highways, segregated paths where you can cycle wherever you like, whenever you want. Cars cannot come to our path so I think it’s not just a question of changing behaviour it’s a matter as well of having more and better infrastructure and we see that where we have more infrastructure we have more [bike] sales.”

According to his LinkedIn profile Marsilio has worked for CONEBI since 2014. Prior to that he was a European Parliament analyst for an Italian consultancy, and before that worked for LGI Consulting, a French software development company interested in, among other things, autonomous vehicles. 

Reaction to this story has been swift, with many on Twitter pointing out the downsides of making cyclists – and pedestrians, and deer and so on – wear beacons.

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