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UBER BLAMES SOFTWARE FOR PEDESTRIAN FATALITY NTSB STILL INVESTIGATING SELF-DRIVING CAR CRASH
A n internal investigation by Uber into the fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, involving its prototype autonomous SUV revealed that faultily programmed software was to blame for the incident. The crash took place at about 10 p.m. on March 18 when 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg walked off of a center median into a lane of traffic and was struck by the self-driving vehicle. Herzberg later died at a local hospital. The Uber vehicle, a modified 2017 Volvo SC90, had a human operator behind the wheel, but the car was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash. Police investigating the crash stated afterward that "it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how [Herzberg] came from the shadows right into the roadway." Just last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report for its investigation into this particular crash. The report begins by stating that Herzberg was wearing dark clothing, didn't look at the Uber vehicle until right before impact, and crossed the road in a poorly lit area. Herzberg's bicycle did not have any reflectors, and she also chose to cross the street near a median and not in one of many nearby crosswalks. Lastly, a toxicology test done on Herzberg post-accident found positive results for marijuana and methamphetamine.
The report then details how Uber's self-driving system observed Herzberg just before the crash. Data from the system showed that it first observed the pedestrian six seconds before impact, while moving at a speed of 43 mph. As it approached closer, it classified her as an unknown object, then as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle, while predicting varying expectations for the path of Herzberg. Just 1.3 seconds before collision, the system decided that emergency braking was needed. However, the Uber car's emergency braking system was disabled while the car was under the control of the
computer. This is done to avoid erratic vehicle behavior, and the system relies on an alert human operator to avoid such threats. The system does not alert the operator when it decides that emergency braking is needed. The NTSB has not yet determined any exact causes of the crash, and it continues to gather information from Uber, Volvo, and the Arizona Department of Transportation.
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