Is Uber Putting It in Reverse on Autonomous Vehicles?

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
is uber putting it in reverse on autonomous vehicles

Is ride-hailing company Uber backing away from self-driving cars now that one of their test vehicles was involved in a fatality?

Following the death of a pedestrian hit by one of Uber’s experimental autonomous vehicles in Tempe, Arizona, the ride sharing company suspended the testing Uber was doing with AVs on public roads in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and California in the United States and Ontario in Canada. Now comes word that Uber has informed California’s Department of Motor Vehicles that it will not be renewing its license to test autonomous vehicles on that state’s public roads. That license expires at the end of this month.

Uber, along with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the Tempe police department are each conducting investigations of the fatal incident. Already, attention has been focused on the reduced number of LIDAR sensors used on Uber’s current generation of AVs. When Uber switched its test fleet from Ford Fusion sedans to Volvo XC90 CUVs, it changed the number of the various types of sensors it uses to let the vehicles drive themselves. The Fusions had seven laser based LIDAR sensors, seven radar sensors, and 20 visual spectrum cameras. Uber’s autonomous Volvos have more radar units, ten, but fewer cameras, seven, and only a single roof-mounted LIDAR unit.

That LIDAR sensor is supplied by Velodyne, can sense things in a 360 degree circle, but it has a relatively narrow vertical range, making detection of objects close to the ground difficult. According to Velodyne, the system used by Uber also has near-field blindness and cannot detect obstacles within 3 meters of the vehicle.

The test vehicles currently used by Waymo, the Google related self-driving startup, use six LIDAR sensors, while the autonomous cars now being tested by General Motors have an array of five laser units.

In other news related to the fatal accident in Tempe, a spokesperson for Aptiv, which supplies Volvo with its own advanced driver assistance system that provides collision avoidance, lane-keeping, and other safety systems that use similar technology to those used in autonomous vehicles, said that Uber had disconnected the XC90’s native ADAS to test its own systems. Aptiv uses a combination of radar and camera based tech, which itself is supplied by Intel’s Mobileye unit. In a statement issued on Intel’s corporate website, Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua wrote that tests using video from the Tempe accident showed that their own technology would have detected the pedestrian a second before impact.

The victim was Elaine Herzberg, 49. Her family’s attorney has announced that they have already arrived at a settlement with Uber for her death. Herzberg was trying to walk her bicycle across a four-lane road, outside the crosswalk, when she was hit by Uber’s self-driving Volvo.

[Image: Uber]

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4 of 15 comments
  • Bluegoose Bluegoose on Mar 30, 2018

    Uber's Volvos only have 1 Lidar sensor while the Waymo has several more. I think Uber has an inferior design. It is time for Uber to go back to the drawing board.

    • See 1 previous
    • Ect Ect on Apr 02, 2018

      It may be past time for Uber to acknowledge that they are a taxi company, not a technology company. They bring no competitive advantage to the AV business. And as a taxi company, they aren't even profitable - managed to lose $4.5 billion in 2017. Management should be focused on achieving profitability, not playing with AVs.

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Apr 01, 2018

    Poor old Li Shufu, prez of Geely. Uber planned to buy 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo once this frippery of actual real world testing was complete. Fat chance of that big sale now. No word on whether a leading Swedish industrial designer had completed a stylized casing to beautify the lidar unit's housing sitting on the vehicle's head. Design brief: Had to be compatible with a roof rack, or 20 foot canoe strapped to the lid for their more outdoorsy Canadian customer, Mr Canoehead. No doubt the NTSB investigation will answer the following obvious question: How did the accident vehicle manage to trundle around Tempe for hours avoiding lamp posts and concrete barriers, boring its "always-on-the-ready" human attendant to tears? Then ignore the 35 mph speed limit by a human amount, just a measly 3 mph, your Honor, honest! And then smack into a human its sensors failed to notice a good 100 yards short of spec? You know, unlike any number of available pedestrian alert and braking systems currently available on drossly ordinary cars like a Corolla. Perhaps the Jedi will have to be consulted. It's interesting that Uber appears to be manning up. If it were Tesla, they'd have invented ten reasons for it not being Autopilot's fault, while absolving themselves of responsibility and using the tactic of studied omissions of the obvious to muddy the waters so much that nobody would remember WTH happened a week later.

  • Danddd Chicago at night is crazy traveling in and out from the 'burbs. Taking the Ike back home around midnight and you'll see racers swerving by at 100mph plus. Dangerous enough we rarely go down there anymore. I plan my city trips between 9:30AM and back out by 1PM to miss the worst traffic.
  • SCE to AUX Good summary, Matt.I like EVs, but not bans, subsidies, or carbon credits. Let them find their own level.PM Sunak has done a good thing, but I'm surprised at how sensibly early he made the call. Hopefully they'll ban the ban altogether.
  • SCE to AUX "Having spoken to plenty of suppliers over the years, many have told me they tried to adapt to EV production only to be confronted with inconsistent orders."Lofty sales predictions followed by reality.I once worked (very briefly) for a key supplier to Segway, back when "Ginger" was going to change the world. Many suppliers like us tooled up to support sales in the millions, only to sell thousands - and then went bankrupt.
  • SCE to AUX "all-electric vehicles, resulting in a scenario where automakers need fewer traditional suppliers"Is that really true? Fewer traditional suppliers, but they'll be replaced with other suppliers. You won't have the myriad of parts for an internal combustion engine and its accessories (exhaust, sensors), but you still have gear reducers (sometimes two or three), electric motors with lots of internal components, motor mounts, cooling systems, and switchgear.Battery packs aren't so simple, either, and the fire recalls show that quality control is paramount.The rest of the vehicle is pretty much the same - suspension, brakes, body, etc.
  • Theflyersfan As crazy as the NE/Mid-Atlantic I-95 corridor drivers can be, for the most part they pay attention and there aren't too many stupid games. I think at times it's just too crowded for that stuff. I've lived all over the US and the worst drivers are in parts of the Midwest. As I've mentioned before, Ohio drivers have ZERO lane discipline when it comes to cruising, merging, and exiting. And I've just seen it in this area (Louisville) where many drivers have literally no idea how to merge. I've never seen an area where drivers have no problems merging onto an interstate at 30 mph right in front of you. There are some gruesome wrecks at these merge points because it looks like drivers are just too timid to merge and speed up correctly. And the weaving and merging at cloverleaf exits (which in this day and age need to all go away) borders on comical in that no one has a bloody clue of let car merge in, you merge right to exit, and then someone repeats behind you. That way traffic moves. Not a chance here.And for all of the ragging LA drivers get, I found them just fine. It's actually kind of funny watching them rearrange themselves like after a NASCAR caution flag once traffic eases up and they line up, speed up to 80 mph for a few miles, only to come to a dead halt again. I think they are just so used to the mess of freeways and drivers that it's kind of a "we'll get there when we get there..." kind of attitude.