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March 20, 2018 News of the Day: Toyota Suspends its Autonomous Testing After Fatal Uber Incident, German Police Raid BMW's Munich Headquarters in Emissions Probe

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【Summary】March 20, 2018 News of the Day: Uber likely not at fault in pedestrian death, Police raid BMW's Munich headquarters, Toyota suspends its autonomous driving tests, and more.

Eric Walz    Mar 20, 2018 4:33 PM PT
March 20, 2018 News of the Day: Toyota Suspends its Autonomous Testing After Fatal Uber Incident, German Police Raid BMW's Munich Headquarters in Emissions Probe
author: Eric Walz   

TOKYO — Toyota Motor Corp. said it was temporarily suspending public road testing of its advanced autonomous driving technology after a self-driving Uber test car killed an Arizona pedestrian in the first known fatality involving a fully autonomous vehicle.

The pause in testing affects vehicles operating in ‘chauffeur mode' — Toyota's name for its autonomous driving system — a Toyota spokesman said Tuesday.

The decision suspends only operations in the U.S. and was ordered by the Toyota Research Institute, the Silicon Valley-based research center for autonomous driving. Toyota did not say when it would resume its public road tests.

"We are intentionally waiting to see what the investigation reveals," Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said of the ongoing police probe into Sunday night's Uber accident.

"We just want to give our drivers time to reflect about how important their jobs are."

Public testing of fully autonomous vehicles will continue in Japan, another spokesman said.

Toyota said it suspended U.S. public road trials out of consideration for the human drivers who sit behind the wheel with the duty of overriding the autonomous system if something goes wrong. The pause was not triggered by concerns about the technology, Toyota said.

"We cannot speculate on the cause of the incident or what it may mean to the automated driving industry going forward," the company said in an emailed statement to Automotive News.

"Because we feel the incident may have an emotional effect on our test drivers, we have decided to temporarily pause our Chauffeur mode testing on public roads."

The Uber vehicle, which was supervised by a human safety driver at the time of the accident, struck the woman March 18 as she was walking her bike across the street outside a crosswalk.

Uber has suspended pilots in all cities following the deadly crash yesterday.

The police chief of Tempe, Ariz., where the crash took place, said an early investigation found that the collision would have been difficult to avoid. "I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident, either," said Chief Sylvia Moir. The statement appeared in a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Toyota has been doing on-road testing in Michigan and California. The Japanese carmaker declined to say how many fully autonomous vehicles it tests on public roads.

"TRI has historically not disclosed the size of our test fleet. TRI can say our number of test vehicles is intentionally small to allow for flexibility as our technology and capability rapidly advances."

German Police Raid BMW's Munich Headquarters in Diesel Emissions Probe

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As Volkswagen recovers from it own emissions scandal known as ‘dieselgate', another German automaker is now under investigation. German police raided BMW's headquarters in Munich on Tuesday as part of an ongoing investigation into suspected cheating on diesel emissions.

BMW said in a statement that it was cooperating with authorities.

"The BMW Group takes the situation very seriously and has a significant interest in the circumstances being fully explained," the automaker said.

Prosecutors said that 100 police officers were involved in the raids, which also targeted a second BMW location in Austria. They said the investigation was continuing.

BMW has admitted updating about 11,400 750d and M550d diesel-powered models with incorrect software that could have affected their emissions. It said it had immediately informed authorities about the error.

"The BMW Group continues to assume that the situation was caused by an incorrect allocation of the software and does not represent a deliberate attempt to manipulate exhaust emissions," it said in a statement.

BMW rival Volkswagen admitted in 2015 it rigged engines to cheat on diesel emissions tests, and it has spent tens of billions of dollars to fix cars and resolve legal claims.

The scandal has prompted calls for tougher regulation of diesel cars in the EU.

Germany's top court recently paved the way for major cities to ban diesel vehicles altogether, and other cities and countries are looking to do the same.

California Utilities Commissioner Wants to Regulate Uber Like Tour Buses & Limousines

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Uber Technologies Inc. should be classified as the same type of transportation as limousines and tour buses, a California regulator said on Monday in a proposal that could change how the ride-hailing company is regulated in its home state of California.

A commissioner for the California Public Utilities Commission, who had been tasked with investigating and formulating a proposal on regulating Uber, said that the San Francisco-based company should be classified as a charter-party carrier, a transportation category known as TCP.

TCP includes services offering pre-arranged transportation, such as a sightseeing tour, which must comply with certain licensing, insurance and inspection requirements.

The proposal found that Uber qualified as a TCP because it "exercises extensive control" over its drivers and customers, creating the software for hailing a ride, calculating fares and billing riders, and completing criminal background checks on drivers and vehicle inspections.

The category includes services offering pre-arranged transportation that do not usually require using a smartphone app, such as a sightseeing tour, and the services must comply with certain licensing, insurance and inspection requirements.

As part of the proposal, Uber would be required to pay three years of back fees, the maximum allowed under state law, although the decision published Monday did not specify an amount. There will be a period for public comment before the commission votes on the proposal.

The proposal found that Uber qualified as a TCP because it "exercises extensive control" over its drivers and passengers, and is not merely a technology company but rather is integral in the transportation of people. Uber built the software for hailing a ride, it calculates fares and bills riders, and conducts criminal background checks on drivers and inspections on vehicles.

The decision does not pertain to San Francisco-based Lyft Inc, Uber's biggest rival in California.

A spokesman for the CPUC declined to comment on the details of the proposal or its regulatory implications. An Uber spokesman said the company was still reviewing the proposal and plans to file a response.

The decision comes the day after a crash in Arizona in which an Uber self-driving car hit and killed a woman crossing the street, marking it the first fatality caused by a self-driving vehicle.

It's still not clear how Uber's business would be affected if the commissioner's proposal is enacted, but TCPs have specific requirements for alcohol and drug testing and workers' compensation that could affect Uber's relationship with its independent contractor drivers.

The ruling said Uber has been operating as a TCP since at least October 2010, around the time it started in San Francisco.

Tempe Police Chief: Autonomous Uber Likely Not at Fault in Woman's Death

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A self-driving Uber Volvo XC90 SUV, the same model involved in the Tempe, Arizona pedestrian fatality

TEMPE, AZ — Police in Tempe, Arizona have reviewed the video recorded from Uber's autonomous SUV and said that Uber is not likely at fault when the vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian at night.

Police say a video from the Uber self-driving Volvo SUV on Sunday shows her moving in front of it suddenly, a factor that investigators are likely to focus on, rather than the performance of the self-driving systems installed in the vehicle.

Uber's autonomous test vehicles have a forward-facing video recorder, which showed the woman walking her bicycle at about 10 p.m. and moved into traffic from a dark center median, according to the Tempe police.

"It's very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode," Sylvia Moir, the police chief in Tempe, Arizona, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

"The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them," Moir said, referring to the safety driver who was behind the wheel but not operating the vehicle. "His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision."

The chief's account raises new questions in the investigation that holds importance to the future of the burgeoning autonomous vehicle industry. Uber Technologies Inc. halted autonomous vehicle tests in the wake of the accident and officials in Boston asked that similar tests in that city be suspended as well.

It's too soon to draw any conclusions from the preliminary information that has emerged, said Brian Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who has studied autonomous vehicle liability.

"It's possible that Uber's automated driving system did not detect the pedestrian, did not classify her as a pedestrian, or did not predict her departure from the median," Smith said in an email. "I don't know whether these steps occurred too late to prevent or lessen the collision or whether they never occurred at all, but the lack of braking or swerving whatsoever is alarming and suggests that the system never anticipated the collision."

Police later said in a statement that the department would defer to county prosecutors on whether to bring charges, but didn't dispute any of the information released by Moir.

In a news conference Monday, Tempe Police Sergeant Roland Elcock said local authorities had not come to any conclusions about who is at fault. Decisions on any possible charges will be made by the Maricopa County Attorney's office.

The victim, Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking her bike outside of the crosswalk. The car was most likely going about 38 miles (61 kilometers) per hour, Moir said. The speed limit where the accident occurred is 35 mph, police spokeswoman Lily Duran said.

The department expects to give a further update later Tuesday but has no plans to release video footage while the investigation is underway.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is opening an investigation into the death and is sending a team of four investigators to Tempe, about 10 miles east of Phoenix.

The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also dispatched a special crash investigation team.

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