Biden’s $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill speeds up beacons for cyclists and pedestrians to enable detection by connected cars


The markup – or equipping bicycles and pedestrians with transponder tags that can be detected automatically by cars equipped with sensors – has received the official seal of approval in the United States as a hidden part of the bill. bipartisan bill on over $ 1,000 billion infrastructure passed by the House of Representatives on Nov. 5, sending it to President Biden’s desk.

The measure was passed by 228-206, with the support of thirteen Republicans. Six Democrats voted against, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Biden could sign the bill within days.

Biden said the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “will modernize our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our broadband, a series of things turning the climate crisis into an opportunity, and set us on the path to winning 21st century economic competition. century we are facing with China and other major countries in the rest of the world.

Along with the reconstruction of bridges, the construction of new highways and more money for protected cycling infrastructure, the law, once signed, also formalizes the acceptance of the so-called “vehicle for all” (V2X) technology. which, at first glance, promises increased safety on the roads for pedestrians and cyclists.

However, experts warn that deploying such technology has critical drawbacks.


Tucked away within the mammoth bill is a section on “Connected Vehicle Technology Research,” which states the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in conjunction with the head of the Joint Systems Program Office. intelligent transportation, and the administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, must “expand vehicle-pedestrian research efforts focused on integrating cyclists and other vulnerable road users in the safe deployment of connected vehicle systems; and no later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, submit to Congress a report outlining the results of the research efforts, including an analysis of the extent to which applications supporting vulnerable road users can be factored into existing spectrum allocations for vehicle connected systems.

Vehicles to everything

Millions of poles, poles and signs have already been fitted with low-power transponders so that they can be detected by today’s sensor-equipped cars and tomorrow’s AVs. Chipping off every piece of road furniture is a key part of a booming new industry: “Intelligent Transport Systems” (ITS). The deployment of these infrastructure-to-vehicle beacons has so far been inconsequential – poles and poles have no say in the matter – but ITS isn’t that smart when pesky humans are added to the mix.

The automotive and telecommunications industries have been working with bicycle manufacturers for years on “bike-to-vehicle” (B2V) sensors.

In 2018, the World Association of the Bicycle Industry declared itself in favor of markup, with Managing Director Manuel Marsilio telling attendees of the Future Networked Car Symposium at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show that “bikes should certainly communicate with other vehicles ”.

The fact that bicycle makers have long worked with the “connected car” industry to find out which V2X sensor technology works best is seen by many as a wise collaboration. Finally, cyclists will be safe on the roads; what not to like? For tech companies and affluent cyclists, the future will be rosy: connected cars will know exactly where bicycles equipped with beacons are on the highway, and crashes will therefore be avoided. Vision Zero has become a reality, not through behavior change, but through technology.

An alternative, and for historian Peter Norton, the most likely version of this future is deeply dystopian. Only those equipped with beacons will be spotted. Those who choose, say, for economic or privacy reasons not to install bike-to-vehicle beacons will be blamed for being struck by cars equipped with sensors, said Norton, author of the new book. Autonorama which details the potential threat to pedestrians and cyclists from driverless vehicles.

“I find it hard to imagine how we get automated driving systems that reliably detect bikes that aren’t fitted with anything,” said Norton, associate professor of history in the engineering and corporate department of the ‘University of Virginia.

“We know from research that cyclist detection is one of the most difficult things autonomous vehicle developers and developers of automated driving systems have faced. So I don’t see how these systems protect cyclists. And I think they can actually increase the risk for cyclists, because if they send the message to drivers that the car is watching the cyclists for them, but the car is not doing it particularly well, then we make the situation of the cyclists. more dangerous cyclists. , no less dangerous.

Crisps with that?

If cyclists are to ride with RFID tags, the next logical step is for pedestrians to also use RFID technology, or the like, warn detractors of B2V technologies.

ITS companies claim that most people already own such technologies because smartphones signal their presence. However, not everyone has a smartphone. And what about when a smartphone battery runs out? A cyclist or a pedestrian then chooses not to ride or walk because he is no longer “protected” by a “forcefield” application?

Or maybe you’ve turned off your Bluetooth or forgot to turn off airplane mode? Smash: You’re dead, tech critics say, and then it would be your fault if you mistakenly assumed you were protected.

The auto industry wants pedestrians and cyclists to transmit location information in real time, as this may be the only way autonomous vehicles (AVs) could operate in cities. Lidar, 360-degree cameras and other “smart” technologies cannot yet warn that the child is running away from behind parked cars.

Should a transponder be placed in clothing? What if the kid ran outside without wearing their tagged baseball cap? If the tag were to always be on the person, logically that would mean it would have to be embedded in the body: are we ready to chip all humans?

“The cooperative element enabled by digital connectivity will dramatically improve road safety and traffic efficiency by helping cyclists and other road users to make the right decision and adapt to traffic situations,” said Marsilio from the World Bicycle Industry Association at Future Networked Car.

He stressed: “The bicycle industry sees the proper deployment of harmonized connected services as key to this goal and agrees that interoperability is a must. It is unacceptable that road users today can die on the roads because vehicles cannot communicate with each other due to non-interoperable communication technologies.

Marsilio added, “Increasing user adoption requires an appropriate regulatory environment. ”

Regulatory environment? Fines for those who choose to ride or walk without a tag? It should be noted that the “crime” of jaywalking did not exist until the auto industry invented it in the 1920s.

“Road safety” has often meant “getting away from cars” and historically this has led people to pull off the streets.


One of the American companies working on bike-to-vehicle technologies is Volume software of Detroit, Michigan, founded in 2014. It has more than 20 bicycle companies on its advisory board, including high-end brands such as Trek, Specialized, Giant and companies that make bikes for big box retailers.

Tome has also worked with Give Me Green, a system that equips brake lights with cyclist recognition technology that turns the lights green for cyclists. In addition to equipping bikes with beacons, Tome is also working on technologies that won’t need Bluetooth bursts or other types of proximity pulses.

However, Norton warns, “If the technology is actually found to make cycling safer for those who have it, but more dangerous for those who don’t, does this become a political motive to demand that all cyclists have it? the necessary equipment for cars to detect them? If this is the case then we now have problems of access to bicycles among those on a budget, or of deterrence from cycling in a society where we need to more, not less for many reasons, including sustainability and public health. ”

Norton added, “We don’t protect these unequipped cyclists when we have equipped cyclists, and we make their situation somewhat worse because riders come to expect cyclists to be equipped. And eventually, even road designers and road authorities will begin to assume that cyclists need to be equipped. Perhaps the law will even begin to expect this.


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