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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
report self driving uber vehicle involved in fatal collision saw ignored pedestrian

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]

Join the conversation
3 of 30 comments
  • 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.

  • Jkross22 This might just be me, but the times that I've driven an EV, I use the brake regen paddles to quell my inner MT/control freak nature.
  • Randy in rocklin I had a 82 733 at one time. It was an awesome car. Good power and great handling. Smooth shifting and ride.
  • Jkross22 Gavin Newsom may not be aware of the fiscal problems of the state he leads, as his focus is on criticizing other states. It's actually better that he has someone shining a laser light on a map so he can stop making things worse here. Just lace his hair gel with some catnip and have him hit himself trying to get to it. Things in LA are getting so bad that even the leftists and progressives are showing up to LA city council meetings with mirrors to protest, well, everything - gas prices, the homeless pandemic, the house pricing pandemic, the crime pandemic. It shocked the City Council that their subjects dare attempt to ask for accountability. The Council president insisted that people with mirrors be escorted out, lest the council be reminded of their incompetence and hubris. That being said, there is no connection being made between the way LA subjects vote and the results it yields. Never underestimate the stupidity of the typical CA voter. The state is a basketcase but voters keep electing the same retreads every time.
  • ScarecrowRepair Too much for too little, unless you treat it strictly as a toy.
  • DedBull Mk2 Jettas are getting harder to find, especially ones that haven't been modified within an inch of their life. I grew up in an 85 GLI, and would love to have one in as close to stock configuration as I could get. This car isn't that starting point, especially sitting 3-4 years in the NY dirt. It's a parts car at best, but there might still be money in it even at that price, if you are willing to take it down to absolutely nothing left.