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

Arizona crash report reveals troubling flaws in Uber’s self-driving cars
[Photo: Dllu/Wikimedia Commons]

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a damning preliminary report regarding a fatal crash in March involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona. The report reveals a problematic reliance on human operators.

“According to data obtained from the self-driving system, the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about 6 seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling at 43 mph. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision . . . According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.”

The news comes just a day after Uber confirmed it is winding down all self-driving operations in Arizona. The company will now focus on its own internal assessment of its self-driving technology, which will involve a review of all software, hardware, and training operations.

In a statement an Uber spokesperson said during the last two months the company has worked closely with the NTSB. “We’ve initiated our own safety review of our self-driving vehicles program. We’ve also brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture, and we look forward to sharing more on the changes we’ll make in the coming weeks,” they said.

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