By on March 30, 2018

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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15 Comments on “Is Uber Putting It in Reverse on Autonomous Vehicles?...”


  • avatar

    unsafe at any speed

  • avatar
    08Suzuki

    If you’re going to talk about weenies who want to take away our right to drive as a “privilege” or whatever nonsense, then you need to talk about *THESE* weenies who want to prosecute every driver involved in an accident as an actual murderer and literally treat all cars like guns (or probably even worse, actually) https://twitter.com/StreetsblogUSA/status/979021505085493248

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    I don’t like this technology and what it means for the future. That said, I don’t think this single cash is a reason to stop all testing. Investigate the cause, correct what happened and learn from it. We wouldn’t have planes if they stopped all development after the first time one of the Wright brothers skinned his knee. It’s an odd time where we want revolutionary advancements but are unwilling to pay for them.

  • avatar
    Guythall

    More people will die in the future from autonomous cars, but far less than the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every week due to human error caused crashes. A big downside going forward will be the lack of desperately needed human organs for critically ill patients, something we’ll have to address with the introduction of autonomous cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      If you look at the fatality and accident rates on a passenger mile basis, there will be no shortage of donor organs once there are more autonomous cars. I understand that sticking your head in the sand when reality doesn’t match theory is the climate change disciple’s modus operandi, but there are enough folks who realize the implications of the people who make the devices they reboot every day controlling their physical safety to stop this fiasco in its tracks before each AV casualty stops being newsworthy.

      • 0 avatar
        Guythall

        Todd,

        I don’t know what data you might be referring to about no shortage
        of donor organs. In 2016 there were 37,461 deaths due to
        auto crashes (1.16 deaths per 100 million miles traveled or 11.6
        deaths per 100,000 people.) Accidents among the most reliable
        sources for healthy organs and tissues are the more than 35,000
        people killed each year on American roads.
        Currently, 1 in 5 organ donations comes from the victim of a vehicular accident. As more than half of all road traffic deaths occur among young adults ages 15-44, we lose some of the best organ donors, morbidly speaking…

        http://fortune.com/2014/08/15/if-driverless-cars-save-lives-where-will-we-get-organs/

        http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/12/self_driving_cars_will_exacerbate_organ_shortages.html

        The climate change topic is worth a discussion at another time, but this topic is completely independent of that one. The Autonomous car momentum is being driven by solid compelling economics.

        Here is a recent reasonable in-depth article in the Atlantic magazine. The article is good in that it gets away from the technical discussion and into societal questions. Here is a key point. First, Waymo (AKA Google) expects to be providing rides for up to a million people every day in 2020. 2020 is not some distant number. It’s hardly even a projection. By laying out this time line last week, Waymo is telling the world: Get ready, this is really happening. This is autonomous driving at scale, and not in five years or 10 years or 50 years, but in two years or less. Here’s the chance to rethink the role of wheeled transportation and urban life. And Waymo just gave us the timeline.
        https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/the-most-important-self-driving-car-announcement-yet/556712/

        Google will be competing against GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan. All these have expressed that the auto market is going to be replaced by a transportation service market, and they are fiercely competing to get a strong first position, as traditional auto sales decline.

        Check the video: https://youtu.be/-EBcpIvPWnY?t=43s

        • 0 avatar
          Guythall

          I don’t know what data you might be referring to about no
          shortage of donor organs. In 2016 there were 37,461 deaths
          due to auto crashes (1.16 deaths per 100 million miles
          traveled or 11.6 deaths per 100,000 people.) Accidents
          among the most reliable sources for healthy organs and
          tissues are the more than 35,000 people killed each year
          on American roads.

          Currently, 1 in 5 organ donations comes from the victim
          of a vehicular accident. As more than half of all road
          traffic deaths occur among young adults ages 15-44,
          we lose some of the best organ donors, morbidly speaking…

          http://fortune.com/2014/08/15/if-driverless-cars-save-lives-where-will-we-get-organs/

          http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/12/self_driving_cars_will_exacerbate_organ_shortages.html

          The climate change topic is worth a discussion at
          another time, but this topic is completely independent
          of that one. The Autonomous car momentum is being
          driven by solid compelling economics.

          Here is a recent reasonable in-depth article in the
          Atlantic magazine. The article is good in that it gets
          away from the technical discussion and into societal
          questions. Here is a key point. First, Waymo (AKA Google)
          expects to be providing rides for up to a million people
          every day in 2020. 2020 is not some distant number.
          It’s hardly even a projection. By laying out this
          timeline last week, Waymo is telling the world: Get
          ready, this is really happening. This is autonomous
          driving at scale, and not in five years or 10 years
          or 50 years, but in two years or less. Here’s the
          chance to rethink the role of wheeled transportation
          and urban life. And Waymo just gave us the timeline.

          https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/the-most-important-self-driving-car-announcement-yet/556712/

          Google will be competing against GM, Ford, Chrysler,
          Toyota, Nissan. All these have expressed that the
          auto market is going to be replaced by a transportation
          service market, and they are fiercely competing to
          get a strong first position, as traditional
          auto sales decline.

          Check the video: https://youtu.be/-EBcpIvPWnY?t=43s

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Were there an average of 13,000 AVs on the highways of the US over the past twelve months? Because that’s how many there would have had to have been for them to not have caused fatal collisions at a higher rate than human operators. Don’t start investing in Planned Parenthood’s assisted suicide organ harvesting scheme just yet.

        • 0 avatar
          Guythall

          Todd, AV is still in the test stages. It will start rolling out in volume late this and into the next few years. That’s where you’ll see the donor organ issue arise.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Guythall

      Agreed.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      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.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    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.

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