- A self-driving Uber car reportedly saw a Tempe, AZ woman crossing the street but ignored her before fatally crashing into her earlier this year, The Information and others report, based on unnamed sources.
- Findings of the current investigation suggest the autonomous vehicle’s (AV) software detected Elaine Herzberg crossing the street but did not pay attention to her and so did not engage the brakes or sound an alarm.
- In a statement to TechCrunch, Uber declined to comment on the claims specifically. "In the meantime, we have initiated a top-to-bottom safety review of our self-driving vehicles program, and we have brought on former [National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)] Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture," the company wrote.
This news that the Uber AV saw Herzberg but failed to react is troubling for the company’s AV testing as it looks to roll out the technology in the next few years. TechCrunch describes the failure, unconfirmed by Uber, as being a fault in the car’s "higher logic," meaning that the car is making decisions about which objects warrant attention and how to react to them. The need to mimic human behavior — swerving out of the way of a pedestrian in the street but gliding past a car parked close by on the street — is one of the biggest tests for AVs and one that clearly still needs work.
Safety advocates and elected officials continue to tout that AVs could reduce traffic deaths and injuries, as approximately 94% are caused by human error. But the findings so far appear to be in keeping with the public pronouncements of U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI, who said earlier this year that more work must be done on the "moral and ethical decisions" that AVs must evaluate, like human drivers.
The failure also continues to raise questions about the actions — or lack thereof — of the safety driver. Video captured from inside the AV revealed the driver not paying attention, and only realizing the car was about to crash into Herzberg at the last moment and that, combined with the software failure, contributed to her death.
TechCrunch notes the NTSB report may take a while to come out as this situation is "without precedent," so anyone anticipating the investigation’s complete findings might be in for a long wait.