Report: Self-driving Uber Vehicle Involved in Fatal Collision Saw, Ignored Pedestrian

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The fatal collision between an autonomous Volvo XC90 operated by Uber Technologies and 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in March could have been prevented, had the vehicle’s software not dismissed what its sensors saw.

That’s what two sources briefed on the issue told The Information, but Uber isn’t divulging what led to the Tempe, Arizona collision. What it will admit to, however, is the hiring of a former National Transportation Safety Board chair to examine the safety of its self-driving vehicle program.

Uber suspended testing following the March crash. In the aftermath, a video showing the seconds leading up to the impact revealed a vehicle that didn’t react to the victim crossing its path on a darkened road. The Volvo’s headlights pick up Herzberg an instant before the collision, but it’s the forward-facing radar and 360-degree rooftop LIDAR unit that should have identified the woman as an object to be avoided.

Lidar supplier Velodyne denied any flaw in its product following the fatal crash.

Blame the software, the sources claim. Uber reportedly tuned its software to aggressively ignore what the sensors determined to be “false positives,” thus ensuring a smooth ride with fewer unnecessary course corrections or brake applications. An errant plastic shopping bag counts as a false positive. As far as the car’s software was concerned, Herzberg was just such an object, the sources stated.

Uber declined to comment on these claims. On Monday, the company announced the hiring of a safety expert to oversee its autonomous vehicle program.

“We have initiated a top-to-bottom safety review of our self-driving vehicles program, and we have brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture,” Uber said. “Our review is looking at everything from the safety of our system to our training processes for vehicle operators, and we hope to have more to say soon.”

A preliminary report on the Tempe crash should emerge from the NTSB “in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

[Image: Uber]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • JGMotorsport64 JGMotorsport64 on May 09, 2018

    What is the point of a self driving car if the driver has to babysit it? I’d rather just drive it.

    • Luke42 Luke42 on May 10, 2018

      On long highway drives, babysitting the car is less mentally taxing than driving. You get tired faster when driving. (We have Honda Sensing in one if our cars, and we miss it when we take our other (bigger) car places.) There was also a situation recently where I was running under adaptive cruise control, and I had to multitask -- because the traffic around me slowed down dramstically for a non-obvious reason. I was able to let the adaptive cruise keep my off the bumper of the car in front of me while I swiveled my head around trying to figure out WTF was going to happen next. I was able figure our out more quickly and make a better decision, because I actually understood who slammed on their brakes and why.

  • Voyager Voyager on May 10, 2018

    UBER should reconsider the use of SUVs altogether. One of the key findings was that not only are crashes involving pedestrians increasing, they are becoming more deadly when they do occur. The share of pedestrian crashes that were fatal increased 29 percent during the study period. One culprit, according to the study, was SUV drivers.

  • Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
  • Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.
  • Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.
  • CEastwood If it wasn't for the senior property tax freeze in NJ I might complain about this raising my property taxes since most of that tax goes to the schools . I'm not totally against EVs , but since I don't drive huge miles and like to maintain my own vehicles they are not practical especially since I keep a new vehicle long term and nobody has of yet run into the cost of replacing the battery on an EV .
  • Aquaticko Problem with PHEV is that, like EVs, they still require a behavioral change over ICE/HEV cars to be worth their expense and abate emissions (whichever is your goal). Studies in the past have shown that a lot of PHEV drivers don't regularly plug-in, meaning they're just less-efficient HEVs.I'm left to wonder how big a battery a regular HEV could have without needing to be a PHEV.