Autonomous Uber That Crashed in Arizona May Have Been Less Innocent Than Previously Thought

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
autonomous uber that crashed in arizona may have been less innocent than previously

The recent collision in Tempe, Arizona, where an Uber Technologies driverless Volvo collided with another vehicle before rolling onto its side, might not have been as cut and dried as it originally seemed. While the Tempe Police Department originally deemed the autonomous car not to be at fault, the incident report suggest that it might have been taking the same sort of risks that any inattentive flesh-based operator might have.

EE Times obtained copies of the police report and reached out to Mike Demler, senior analyst at The Linley Group, to make sense of exactly what happened at the scene. The popular assumption was that a Ford Edge failed to yield during a left hand turn, impacting with the Volvo XC90 test vehicle and forcing it onto its side.

That’s not quite how it happened.

According to Demler’s analysis and the accounts listed in the police report, the first vehicle to make contact was actually a Honda CR-V that failed to yield. The Edge was struck afterward. While that places the legal blame squarely upon the Honda, it’s worth mentioning that traffic leading up to the intersection had stopped in the left and and center lanes after the light turned yellow.

Here’s how it happened: the Honda driver — already in the intersection — assumed it was safe to make the turn as traffic stopped in anticipation for the red. Seeing the Volvo approaching mid-turn, the driver immediately applied the brakes but still managed to make contact with its left side as it continued through the rightmost lane of the intersection.

The Volvo operator — who was allowing the vehicle to run in autonomous mode — states that the XC90 impacted with the CR-V at roughly the posted speed limit of 40 mph, making no attempt to stop. It had not reacted to the changing light or the slowing traffic.

Demler states that the self-driving Volvo took a pretty minor hit form the Honda but went out of control — colliding with a traffic signal pole as it veered right. The police report clearly states, “After it hit the pole on its passenger side, the Volvo bounced off, spun & flipped over, hitting vehicles #3 and which were stopped in traffic in the middle lane.”

That’s when it collided with the Ford and Hyundai seen in the dramatic photo tweeted by the Fresco News.

BREAKING: Self-driving Uber vehicle on it’s side after a collision in Tempe, AZ.

Photos by @fresconews user Mark Beach

— Fresco News (@fresconews) March 25, 2017

While this still places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the the left-turning Honda CR-V, the Uber’s autonomous systems didn’t really do much to prevent a collision. You would assume that, with traffic at a standstill and the light changing, the Volvo’s computer would have decided to engage in some defensive driving.

The human occupants were clearly oblivious to one another until it was too late, but what was the Uber’s onboard systems doing in the moments leading up to the crash?

Demler had similar concerns. “The Volvo’s roof-mounted LIDAR should have been able to see the CR-V, though its radar and cameras may have been blocked by the stalled traffic on its left. It may have been traveling at too high a speed to properly react in time. The Volvo’s mapping/location software should have known there’s a left turn lane on both northbound and southbound [streets], so any vehicle in that lane intends to turn left.”

So, now that we know what happened, what the hell happened?

Uber hasn’t commented further and has urged any interested parties to reach out to the Tempe Police Department for additional information on the matter.

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2 of 35 comments
  • Jmo Jmo on Apr 01, 2017

    Given that the at fault driver was trying to make a left and the Vovo had a yellow, doesn't that mean if she waited three more seconds she could have just gone left as oncoming traffic now had a red? I don't know that I rountinely expect people to make aggressive moves when the light they need is about to turn green. I expect them to do it when their light is about to turn red.

  • Stumpaster Stumpaster on Apr 03, 2017

    Uber acted like a binary device, and the human in CRV acted like a human. I had an accident just like this one, where I was driving like a binary device. I think Ronnie S. also had something similar in his Fit. Ever since, I am double weary when I am in what appears like a clear lane next to a lane of stopped cars.

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.