LIDAR Supplier Defends Hardware, Blames Uber for Fatal Crash [Updated]
Parts supplier Velodyne Lidar Inc. has come out against Uber Technologies following the release of video footage showing one if its autonomous test vehicles fatally striking an Arizona woman this week. Marta Thoma Hall, president of Velodyne, said she was confused as to why the autonomous SUV failed to see 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg crossing the street.
Velodyne, which supplies autonomous sensing equipment to many of the world’s automotive and tech firms (including Uber), is currently cooperating with federal investigators to determine what happened in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday evening.
“We are as baffled as anyone else,” Thoma Hall wrote in an email to Bloomberg. “Certainly, our Lidar is capable of clearly imaging Elaine and her bicycle in this situation. However, our Lidar doesn’t make the decision to put on the brakes or get out of her way.”
Velodyne asserts that responsibility of ensuring the vehicle’s self-driving system is functioning effectively rests solely with Uber Technologies. Thus far, Uber hasn’t refuted the claims against it and has halted autonomous testing while investigators from local authorities and the National Transportation Safety Board probe the crash.
“In addition to Lidar, autonomous systems typically have several sensors, including camera and radar to make decisions,” Thoma Hall explained. “We don’t know what sensors were on the Uber car that evening, if they were working, or how they were being used.”
The Velodyne executive did weigh in on a matter that’s left a large portion of the public addled by saying lidar is totally effective, regardless of illumination. Over the past week, confused comments on social media flooded in, suggesting it was “too dark” for the self-driving vehicle to “see” the pedestrian. “However, it is up to the rest of the system to interpret and use the data to make decisions. We do not know how the Uber system of decision-making works,” she added.
“We at Velodyne are very sad, and sorry about the recent Uber car accident which took a life,” she said. “David Hall, company CEO, inventor and founder, believes the accident was not caused by Lidar. The problem lies elsewhere.”
Update: Based upon information gleaned from the Uber-Waymo lawsuit, Uber was primarily using off-the-shelf parts from Velodyne throughout 2017. Further investigation showed that the majority of the firm’s Volvo XC90 test vehicles are equipped with the HDL-64E lidar sensor. That model yields a 120-meter range. We’ve provided a photo example (below) illustrating raw imaging data from the unit. It is not known if that was the specific model being used on the vehicle involved in the fatal accident. But photos suggest something similar in design.
[Images: Uber Technologies ; Velodyne Lidar Inc.]
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