By on March 27, 2018

uber volvo

Ever since last week’s  fatal accident, in which an autonomous test vehicle from Uber struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, it seems like the whole world has united against the company. While the condemnation is not undeserved, there appears to be an emphasis on casting the blame in a singular direction to ensure nobody else gets caught up in the net of outrage. But it’s important to remember that, while Uber has routinely displayed a lack of interest in pursuing safety as a priority, all autonomous tech firms are being held to the same low standards imposed by both local and federal governments.

Last week, lidar supplier Velodyne said Uber’s failure was most likely on the software end as it defended the effectiveness of its hardware. Since then, Aptiv — the supplier for the Volvo XC90’s radar and camera — claimed Uber disabled the SUV’s standard crash avoidance systems to implement its own. This was followed up by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issuing a suspension on all autonomous testing from Uber on Monday — one week after the incident and Uber’s self-imposed suspension. 

Waymo, Uber’s bitterest rival on the autonomous research front, also chimed in to say that its self-driving systems would have avoided the accident.

“All that we can say is based on our knowledge of what we’ve seen so far … and our own knowledge of the robustness that we’ve designed into our systems … in situations like that one — in this case a pedestrian or a pedestrian with a bicycle — we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik proclaimed at the National Automobile Dealers’ Association gathering in Las Vegas.

The Alphabet Inc. subsidiary has been careful not to shake the public’s fragile faith in self-driving technology. Waymo and General Motors are the only companies to have filed a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Granted, it’s an incredibly low bar for ensuring public safety, but it does show that Waymo seems to take it more seriously than Uber.

Meanwhile, new details are emerging as the investigation into the fatal crash. Aptiv, which supplies Volvo with the hardware necessary for its semi-autonomous safety suite, said Uber disabled its built-in systems so it could test its own. “We don’t want people to be confused or think it was a failure of the technology that we supply for Volvo, because that’s not the case,” Zach Peterson, a spokesman for Aptiv Plc, said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Subsequently, Intel Corp.’s Mobileye, which produces chips and sensors used in collision-avoidance systems for Aptiv, said it tested its own software by playing a video of the Uber incident on a television monitor. Despite the absolutely horrendous image fidelity, Mobileye claimed it was still able to detect the pedestrian shortly before impact — something Uber’s systems did not appear to do.

“The video released by the police seems to demonstrate that even the most basic building block of an autonomous vehicle system, the ability to detect and classify objects, is a challenging task,” Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua wrote on Intel’s website. “It is this same technology that is required, before tackling even tougher challenges, as a foundational element of fully autonomous vehicles of the future.”

Arizona is also attempting to absolve itself of any wrongdoing. After a week of relative silence, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sent a letter to Uber’s CEO.

“Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said in his letter. “The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.”

It’s a major change in tone from the man who once welcomed all autonomous vehicles “with open arms and wide open roads,” mandating no special permits for testing. However, Ducey’s office did implement a registration process a few weeks before the accident and has established a self-driving car oversight committee.

All of this continues to bring up questions about responsibility. With suppliers understandably defending their technologies, are they somehow liable when their systems fail to save a life? Likewise, is it fair to place the full blame on Uber when the government allowed it to operate without any meaningful safety regulations? These are test vehicles, after all, and it hasn’t been confirmed whether or not the company’s safety driver would have been able to brake in time had more attention been given to the road ahead.

In the past, blame was attributable to decisions made by the pedestrian and motorist. In this case, both failed to make safety a priority, but the waters are further muddied by an electronic system designed to prevent an accident altogether. There’s so much to unpack here and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

[Image: Uber]

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39 Comments on “Arizona, Suppliers Unite Against Uber Self-driving Program...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “In this case, both failed to make safety a priority, but the waters are further muddied by an electronic system designed to prevent an accident altogether.”

    Muddied? Wow, that’s one way of putting it. Here’s another: the electronic system in that car lulled the “driver” into becoming nothing more than a passenger. As a result, the car barreled full-speed into the cyclist. If the person behind the wheel hadn’t been completely checked out at the time of the accident – she didn’t even have her hands on the damn wheel, for crying out loud – this crash could have been far less serious, or perhaps even avoided altogether.

    None of us should be lulled into the belief that we can check out while behind the wheel of one of these vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      GM is already designing them with no manual controls. Other than shrieking, the “driver” will be able to do nothing.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’ve been saying this for a long time now: regardless of what “agenda” people want to attach to self-driving cars, customers have to buy them. Do you think incidents like this will make people open their wallets? Absolutely not.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      You are correct for Level 2 autonomy.

      But these systems are promising us a Level 4 or 5 autonomous future, in which the driver *can* check out (in theory). I’d like to know what claims/expectations Uber had of their system.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’m not sure how we get to any “level” beyond this when the current level clearly doesn’t work. This isn’t like a Windows or Android patch – if this stuff doesn’t work, people die.

        Worse yet, the people who are trying to sell this tech are obviously willing to let us all serve as human guinea pigs until it’s “perfected.” And even then, who the hell knows? If the system failed this miserably on a deserted street, imagine what could happen if it failed in, say, downtown Chicago on a Friday afternoon.

        I don’t see the general public on buying into this, at least for use on crowded city streets.

    • 0 avatar
      Gail Bloxham

      I know this intersection well. I lived within blocks of it for years. The cyclist was walking her bike. At right angle to the flow of traffic. And came at the flow of traffic as a deer comes out of the forest. Abruptly. The cyclist was one of the homeless who often congregate under one of the tour bridges that cross the Salt River on the north side of downtown Tempe. One side of the river is old Tempe. A busy business center. The other side has no buildings or businesses. There are two RR bridges and two vehicle bridges which all cross at that exact location.
      If one looks closely at the video it is clear the person came out ftom the median in the center of the road at right angles to the travel of the car.
      I’m no fan of self driving cars. But this accedent is not a matter of a self driving car running down a bicyclist who was riding their bike. This person was walking the bike and abruptly lurched into the path of a car at right angles.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Turns out this accident was no accident. UBER apparently disabled some of the anti-collision systems: http://www.autonews.com/article/20180327/VIDEO/303279970/first-shift-uber-disabled-safety-tech-before-av-fatality?cciid=email-autonews-firstshift

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        You’re right – it’s not a simple matter of a self driving car mowing down a cyclist. It’s a matter of a self driving car a) with a driver who was completely checked out, and b) whose safety systems were either off, or had failed. If the driver hadn’t been lulled into a false sense of safety by the self driving systems, maybe she’d have been paying sufficient attention to either avoid the cyclist, or make some kind of effort to avoid her.

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        Bingo. Suicide by car. Hard to believe the hullabaloo about this. There may still be real issues with autonomous systems, but this is a piss poor example.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Gov. Ducey sounds like a real DB. They “established a committee”, that’s polspeak for “just in case”.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Everybody will be named in the lawsuit, but Uber will end up writing the check – and rightly so.

    For people who want to blame the pedestrian: What good is an AV vehicle that only behaves well at predefined intersections which must be obeyed by pedestrians, animals, and other moving obstacles?

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      The parade of vendors rushing up to the mike to absolve themselves of any culpability in this is an interesting preview of the legal turmoil that’s going be the norm with autonomous vehicles. At least until the big corporations get the govt to give them some sort of legal cover from liability.

  • avatar
    NutellaBC

    Funny, Arizona is one the most dangerous state for drivers or pedestrians. Hardly any enforcement for speeding or running red lights. Most drivers are waving in and out traffic holding their cell phone as it is legal. Bikers do not wear helmets but Ducey is worried about safety ? Really ?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Criminals are going to love these auto-pods when they’re perfected. Dark, quiet street, one guy steps in the road…the auto-pod stops and two more guys drag the occupant out and rob him. Maybe the auto-pod “reports” a smashed window, but by then you’re toast. The roads will be safer though.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Judging by how at least this car dealt with a “Dark, quiet street, one guy steps in the road”, I’m not so sure I’d volunteer to be next….

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Exactly. I heard Waymo is claiming that their system wouldn’t have failed like this. Therefore, I propose their CEO test it himself under the same conditions.

        Put your money where your mouth is, bro.

        • 0 avatar
          WheelMcCoy

          Even though Waymo can go 5,500 miles before requiring human intervention, I still wouldn’t step in front of one. But compare that to Uber’s pitiful 13 miles between interventions. That’s just 1 level above cruise control and lane watch!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    It seems a report has just come out (Automotive News video this morning) that UBER actively disabled some of the AV’s safety systems which would have prevented this crash.

    Personally, I’d never conceived that anyone would disable an anti-collision system on purpose, which is why my blame was on the sensors. Now it appears UBER may end up getting hit with criminal charges and potentially shut down entirely.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is also why suppliers can be reluctant to work with medical device manufacturers; they don’t wish to be named as a defendant.

    I predict a supplier retreat from Uber, and possibly from the others in this AV game.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Nope. A report released this morning states that UBER intentionally disabled some of the anti-collision systems, meaning all of a sudden the suppliers are off the hook other than perhaps in making it possible for UBER to do so.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    It’s amazing how the fear of bad PR is preventing these spineless companies from telling the truth. I guess it’s just better to blame Uber.

    God forbid they place blame on the dead woman where it belongs.

    Lessons learned:

    Don’t walk out in front of easily visible traffic, in a poorly lit area, at night, while wearing very dark clothes. If you do, you can be killed.

    Gotta love the scumbag daughter though, retaining a lawyer. Gotta cash in on that pay day.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “Don’t walk out in front of easily visible traffic, in a poorly lit area, at night, while wearing very dark clothes. If you do, you can be killed.”

      True, for regular cars and drivers.

      But exactly what are your expectations for an *autonomous* vehicle? Do you really think it’s ok for them to hit things and still claim to be autonomous?

      Try reading the SAE definitions for different levels of vehicle autonomy, instead of being an arrogant troll.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        Sorry that blaming the guilty party offends you so much.

        Why don’t you look up the definition of personal accountability and personal responsibility.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          You’ve never made a mistake?

          And I’m sure that the sheer incompetence of the “driver” – who didn’t even have her hands on the wheel when the accident happened – has nothing to do with this either, right?

          I’m all for personal responsibility. But I’m also all for not holding someone’s life hostage for crossing the street, particularly when the party that hit her was obviously at least partially to blame.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          @ebflex: The system has to be able to avoid deer that generally avoid crosswalks and seem to have an aversion to wearing reflective clothing. So, maybe the person shouldn’t have been crossing where they were crossing, but there is a requirement for autonomous vehicles to avoid hazards like wildlife crossing in unexpected places. Especially wildlife large enough to seriously injure the occupants of the vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          @EBFlex: You’re singing the same refrain without answering the question –

          Just which obstacles do *you* expect an AV to avoid? Only those with bright clothing in crosswalks at noon?

        • 0 avatar
          Dingleberrypiez_Returns

          Hey EBdumbdumb, she’s dead, it’s clear to everyone what the consequences are, without you telling us. She already paid the price. Time to look at who/what failed, who also shares responsibility. Stop laying it on the deceased, it’s not very flattering.

      • 0 avatar
        ydnas7

        Yes, I do expect autonomous vehicles to hit things, (or more precisely, things to hit autonomous vehicles)

        I expect autonomous vehicles to prioritize legal safety of its own occupant over and above all else.

        I expect autonomous vehicles to maintain legal, safe and efficient travel in lane, all the way from/to start end points.

        I consider quite likely that autonomous vehicles will increase safety for other cars, but reduce safety for cyclists, pedestrians and wild life.

        I would trust to send my kids to school in an autonomous vehicle. But i sure wouldn’t trust other’s autonomous vehicles not to hit my kids walking across roads on the way to school.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I notice Ronnie has been strangely absent from both these articles and the comment sections. When that “GeoHotz” guy bailed from selling his “self driving” cell-phone based gadget after the NHTSA had the temerity to ask him some basic questions about the device’s safety (including challenging puzzlers like “Send us the manual”, “Do you know what the FMVSS is and can you provide us evidence you’ve read it?” and “We specific rules around rear view mirrors, have you read them?”, Ronnie was all upset about high-handed government regulation, and how they should have been hands-off with their role as gatekeepers until the proverbial robot horse bolted from the barn and started mowing down innocent bystanders.

    Now that that’s happened, nary a peep.

  • avatar
    W126

    Just check out this youtube video of the accident site at night to see how misleading Uber’s video was.

    https://youtu.be/CRW0q8i3u6E

    At 33 seconds is the actual crash site, it’s very well lit. This self driving technology is definitely not ready.

    Why would people trust uber’s pitch black video, when they have every incentive to make the accident seem unavoidable?

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks W126. Very enlightening (no pun intended). At the very least this video shows that something in the vehicle’s systems failed. If Uber did disable the collision avoidance end of the software – and it appears that the press release states they did – then they hold primary responsibility for the accident – not the pedestrian (who is still responsible to a lesser extent with the “facts” as they now stand).

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        Haha, I was going to type the exact same line. … The area is far brighter at night than the initial video suggests. There was a massive failure of sensing or decision making in that vehicle.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    This whole thing is playing out like an autonomous vehicle version of the play Everyman.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everyman_(play)

  • avatar
    turf3

    How long are people going to go along with being guinea pigs for this? Or is the general public so computer-addled that anything with “computer” and “tech” and “new” in the name gets a free pass?

    At a minimum the vehicle in question should have applied full brake before hitting the pedestrian. I see no indication that happened. Among other indicators is the video of the monitor; if that had happened the “driver” monitor would have been flung forward against the seat belts. Didn’t happen.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I repeat: According to an article on Automotive News this morning, UBER physically disabled some of the anti-collision systems, which allowed this to happen.


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