It is of course is 2020 and this year's Tour de France still still recovering from the horrific accidents experienced in 2018 when a K2ITI company UAV crashed into a rider in a tunnel causing a chain reaction. Although the publicity from the event is helping this year's two or to France due to the ongoing court case, there have been many calls for more safety in the event. Including looking back at the crashes in 2011 caused by team cars crashing into cyclists, and the big crash in 2015 with those new ultra-light graphene coated carbon nano-tube bikes, which when they come apart cut through skin like razor blades.
Yes, all those problems have been fixed, but in 2018 in an attempt to get rid of all the cars and motorcycles on the course, the Tour de France allowed all the teams to have UAVs to deliver water bottles, food, and TV coverage – thus, limiting the number of autonomous cars on the course to only those with anti-collision supercomputer algorithms, and not more than one human mechanic. All communication now would be done by UAV relay and radio. The riders are quite pleased, and the UAVs, which are actually called "micro-air vehicles" or MAVs appeared to do the trick.
In a recap of what had happened in the 2018 race, although no one knew it at the time, an MAV followed the riders through the tunnel. "The 2018 Tour de France went through the tunnel for the 19th stage from Modane Valfrejus to L'Alpe d'Huez," well at least it did for the first break away groups, but when the Pelaton went through, everyone was stunned, as only one rider came out the other side, and then the second to come out 2 minutes later was so bloody he could not see and felled over and collapsed, no one else came out, what on Earth happened.
Well, the rest is history now, but in that massive crash one rider died, one is now a paraplegic, and 27-riders were taken out of the race and three teams were forced to quit as they did not have quorum or rather enough riders to continue, as per the racing rules. It was the worst crash ever in Tour de France history.
Some are blaming K2ITI or "Kansas Kinetic Invisible Technologies Inc." from the Kanza Business & Technology Park in Topeka Kansas, which is also the recipient of a high-speed data system funded by Apple and Google. K2ITI you may have read is also known for its latest DARPA inspired robotic battlespace Cheetah, a project done with MIT and Carnegie Mellon Robotics called "Kiti" which when shot at the robotic Cheetah turns invisible and zig zags so it can not be hit while it advances on its human army targets, now they have a swarming netcentric version and arms around the world fight in fear of this new ominous weapon system.
At the court hearing there was an unusual expert witness, a car washing entrepreneur, and no one could figure out why the families suing the race would call him to testify. One commentary newscaster on Versus said, "what on Earth are the attorneys thinking here, who is this guy, he washes cars?" Then the guest reviewing the case stated; "This guy apparently has ridden his bicycle across the US, runs and think tank, is a pilot, and knows a little bit about robotics from the car wash business, as that industry uses automated tunnels with sensors to clean cars." The Versus commentator then shut up and said "Oh, then the Tour de France people must be worried," the guest just smiled and said; "Indeed."
The lead scientist for K2ITI was certain that the engineering in their MAV is sufficient to fly through any tunnel, or around or through any obstacle, even noting that they had tested the darn thing in a wind tunnel to begin with, where they got all their calibrations for their optical flow sensors, and it did not matter that the MAV was flying through a dark tunnel because it used sonar, lidar, and infrared, it did not need to see in the human sense of what we consider visual optics.
Further, the Tour de France committee was persuaded because the tunnel was dark, that even though the video footage from the UAV was collected and subpoenaed for the courtroom, that there would not be anything on it to see any way to prove that the UAV caused the crash. Crashes happen all the time in the Tour de France, and when the light changes, sometimes the eyes of the riders do not adapt fast enough, and it only takes one mistake from one of the rides in the lead to cause the whole Pelaton to crash . That's what happened as far as they were concerned. That was their story, and they were sticking to it, and condemning any claims in the lawsuit. It was not their fault, even though they had allowed UAVs on the course.
The company flying a UAV which contracted with Versus TV flew through that tunnel twice previously with the two break away groups without any problem. One of the telerobotic pilots, who allowed the UAV to fly autonomously through the tunnel was a little nervous, he admitted to the jury and court, at least the first time it flew through, but when it came out the other side with the riders, he figured it was not a problem, and then when the MAV did it again, they figured they were home free – it's safe.
In looking at the footage, which was somewhat obscured it appeared that the Venturi effect with all the riders in the tunnel caused a little bit of buffeting, and one of the winglelets on one of the wingtips hit the overhead sprinkler system in the tunnel – which caused the UAV to tumble and actually fly right across in front of all the lead writers at an angle, taking out all but one rider. As all the other riders crashed, it was a giant pile up, as is usually the case in the big crashes, with all the broken bones and bloodshed, no one came out the other side, except for the one rider who must have a personal angel. And since there were not any cars allowed on the course, there was no one to help anyone.
It turns out there was just enough evidence from the video to see what had happened because the UAV caused quite a bit of sparking when it hit the overhead sprinkler system lighting up the tunnel, and as each rider crashed, more sparks could be seen which was enough to illuminate the video footage. Plus, the UAV just happened to land and crash up-side-down against the side of the tunnel with the video facing backwards, which very much helped the forensic investigation of exactly what happened. Meanwhile, all of the testimonial from the riders filled in the rest of the blanks.
The expert witness explained how optical sensors can go astray, break, and how the Venturi effect works inside the tunnel. That tunnel is also known for increased wind speeds during stormy weather, and the winds were quite high that day. He explained that flying through that tunnel in those conditions was not a wise choice even for that advanced technology.
The jury agreed, and the Tour de France must pay. Neverheless, the race this year will have increased viewership due to all this external an inconvenience publicity surrounding the event, and they have more than made up the money from big corporate advertisers. At least the fallen riders now will have their medical bills paid, the race will go on, and the families will be fairly compensated.