Arizona crash report reveals troubling flaws in Uber’s self-driving cars

Galtero Lara
May 27, 2018

The outlet reports that the sensors worked, but the failure to swiftly react was due to how it was tuned at the time of the crash.

Cummings said computer vision also remains problematic and often has trouble figuring out which objects on the road present actual dangers, sometimes getting confused by something as innocent as a plastic bag.

As Uber announced it would end its self-driving operations in Arizona, it announced that it would refocus its efforts on the program in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

Arizona has ideal conditions - wide, flat roads with good weather - for autonomous testing, however now Uber will have to tackle not only the cautious concerns of the public and authorities, but the challenge of testing in congested cities with rain, fog, snow and ice.

The four-page report provides a detailed look at the circumstances surrounding the crash, giving us the most complete picture yet of how the vehicle was configured.

Uber's safety driver did try to avoid the collision less than a second before hitting the pedestrian by moving the steering wheel, but didn't brake until after the impact occurred, according to the report.

The operator hit the brakes less than a second after impact, and the vehicle's speed was 39 miles per hour, according to the NTSB. But Uber designs its self-driving cars to turn off that system when the vehicle is in autonomous mode. The safety board said the software was functioning normally and "there were no faults or diagnostic messages". Vasquez left the Uber garage at 9:14 p.m. and drove a usual test loop in the XC90.

Uber explained why the emergency braking systems were not enabled at the time of the accident. This was six seconds before impact.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report regarding the Uber self-driving auto that struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

Uber told the NTSB that these features were disabled in self-driving mode to reduce the potential for "erratic vehicle behavior".

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Importantly, though, the Volvo's native safety tech is only active when the modified Uber vehicle is in manual mode, being driven by a human operator. Despite the onus being on the operator, the report states that the system "is not created to alert the operator". The driver wasn't tested for drugs or alcohol, but police said she showed no signs of impairment. The vehicle's video showed that she was not looking at the SUV until just before impact. "That's the bottom line", William Wallace, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, said in a statement.

"The focus, first and foremost, is on the road ahead", the spokesperson said. She disclosed to NTSB that she was monitoring the self-driving interface.

Despite looking like a safe spot to cross, however, the paths aren't meant for pedestrians. She nearly made it to the curb.

Data collected from the vehicle reveals the driver grabbed the steering wheel less than a second before impact, and began braking less than a second after impact.

"If the prosecution charges the driver, they will use the fact that the driver wasn't paying attention at the time of the death", she said.

The report included information about the pedestrian victim as well. Preliminary findings that were leaked earlier this month claimed that the Volvo did see Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing the street at night.

This image made from video Sunday, March 18, 2018, of a mounted camera provided by the Tempe Police Department shows an exterior view moments before an Uber SUV hit a woman in Tempe, Ariz. The agency typically issues its final conclusions at least a year after an accident.

"Obviously it's very negligent", Medina said of Vasquez's action before the crash.

Arizona is one of three states in the nation with no such law.

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