Robotics Expert Says Tesla Autopilot Will Kill Cyclists

Who is liable in a bicycle accident?Some describe the rise of self-driving cars as the next technological revolution, an invention that will completely change the way that our society functions. Tesla, Uber and Waymo are leading the charge toward fully autonomous vehicles, while dozens of other car companies are incorporating self-driving features, such as automatic parking and collision avoidance, into their vehicles. But a Stanford University robotics researcher is speaking out against self-driving cars, claiming that they pose a potentially fatal risk to cyclists.

Heather Knight, a human-robot interface expert with a PhD from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, recently published an essay about Tesla’s autonomous vehicles, titled “Tesla Autopilot Review: Bikers Will Die.” Ominous, no?

The Review

Knight and a colleague from Stanford took a spin in a Tesla vehicle around the streets and highways of southern California. She described the experience as “frightening,” despite working well in most situations. One severe flaw, she wrote, was the car’s situation awareness display, which is how the vehicle sees its environment. She noted that the Tesla was decently accurate in identifying nearby cars, but only identified around 1 percent of nearby cyclists.

To date, there have been no reported instances of a Tesla vehicle injuring a cyclist in the United States. However, in 2016, a Tesla in Norway failed to identify a motorcycle and caused an accident that injured the biker.

Others dispute her findings. Last year, one Tesla driver featured in the Wall Street Journal said that Tesla’s autopilot saved the life of a cyclist who swerved in front of his vehicle while texting.

Where do you stand? As a cyclist, have you ever had a close call with a self-driving car?