Massive Audi electric SUVs are the “future of bike safety” apparently Leave a comment

Audi is the latest car brand to claim to have developed technology to help keep cyclists and other vulnerable road users safe, and has made big claims about it being the “future of bike safety”…

So what is C-V2X? Audi says it is a “special kind” of vehicle to vehicle communication that allows information to be sent and received by the car in near-real time. Essentially, the C-V2X-equipped Audi would receive information from other vehicles, traffic lights, crossings, road signs, construction workers and, you guessed it, cyclists.

Once received the vehicle can then pass the information to the driver in the form of dashboard warnings to look out for a nearby cyclist, telling them from what direction to expect the ‘hazard’ too.

We’ve been here before. In February, we reported Ford’s idea to bring bike bell sounds into its vehicles when a cyclist is detected.

You might not be too surprised to hear C-V2X’s coverage on Audi’s website focuses more on the potential for drivers to get quicker information about traffic jams and spend less time waiting at traffic lights than keeping cyclists safe, but at a recent press event for its new, rather large electric SUV, the Q4 e-tron, Audi said the tech is “the future of bike safety”.

Writing for Curbed, US-based journalist Alissa Walker — who attended the press event — reports Audi’s senior director of connected services Anupam Malhotra told her the “one and one thing only” drivers involved in collisions with bike riders say is: “I didn’t see the cyclist.”

Apparently then, C-V2X’s dashboard warning and audio prompt would solve this, letting that driver ‘who didn’t see you’ to all of a sudden have their eyes opened to your presence.

However, as Walker notes in her informative long-read article that is well worth ten minutes of your time, the technology is reliant on everything — bikes, other vehicles, traffic lights, crossings — having a corresponding beacon to send and receive information.

And while BMC reportedly plans to incorporate the technology into its frames, it still leaves an enormous number of bicycles that would need to be equipped. And what about those that never are? Would ‘I didn’t get a warning on my dashboard’ become the new ‘I didn’t see you’?

Walker is critical of Audi’s framing of fatal crashes as “a simple matter of misunderstanding”, writing: “No reckless driving behaviours or bad street design is mentioned in most of what’s said over the course of these presentations, just unhappy surprises on the road.

“But C-V2X acts more like a suggestion than an intervention: Unlike the pedestrian-detection systems standard on some vehicles, spotting a cyclist in the path of the car won’t actually bring it to a stop. The feature also does nothing to reduce a driver’s speed, the No. 1 factor in whether a collision will be fatal.”

Peter Norton — an associate professor in the engineering department at the University of Virginia — raised another concern, telling Curbed the technology “implicitly says streets are for cars and if you’re not a car, we need to equip you for this car-world of the future”, and is also an excuse for drivers to pay less attention.

> Volvo unveils its Cyclist Detection System with automatic braking (+ video)

Rather than ‘beacons’, bike to car communication, and hazard warnings, Norton argues slowing driving speeds and better infrastructure would be a better use of everyone’s time.

“If we do all these things at the same time, we reduce the need for any kind of alert to drivers who are not paying attention,” he said. “In a well-designed urban or suburban environment, they know their attention is required.”

While Audi concludes… “The possibilities for Car2X [of which C-V2X is a ‘special kind’ not reliant of cellular networks] are practically unlimited”… Not everyone is quite so sure…

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