Experts Claim Uber's Autonomous Crash Was Avoidable
【Summary】Dashboard footage of the fatal accident has expects believing that the Volvo XC90’s sensors should have detected the pedestrian and avoided the incident.
Earlier this week, on March 19, one of Uber's self-driving Volvo XC90 SUVs struck and killed a bicyclist. The incident took place in Tempe, Ariz. and happened when the vehicle was operating on its own in its autonomous mode. According to reports, Arizona police and federal investigators are looking into the incident by studying the scene of the accident, as well as video footage.
Accidents are an unfortunate aspect of driving on the road. Mistakes are bound to happen, but autonomous vehicles are supposed to be smarter, safer, and more capable than a human driver. With that said, it's hard to state how a human would have reacted in the same situation. According to a report by CNET, experts believe that the accident could've been avoided.
Uber's Systems Should've Detected The Pedestrian
The outlet cites information that it received from Cortica, a tech company that specializes in developing artificial intelligence for driverless cars. According to the report, Cortica told CNET that Uber's system detected Elaine Herzgerg, the deceased bicyclist involved in the incident, 0.9 seconds before impact. That puts the car roughly 50 feet away from the pedestrian. That, as Igal Raichelgauz, Cortica's CEO, was more than enough time for the self-driving car to react.
"The advantage of machine response time and control, the right actions could be made to certainly mitigate the damage," said Raichelgauz.
While Raichelgauz believes that the self-driving vehicle had enough time or swerve or slow down, findings by the Tempe police department and the video reveal that the car didn't slow down or attempt to swerve. That's a little alarming because of all the systems the autonomous car has.
Was It A Sensor Failure Or Something Bigger?
Uber's vehicles are fitted with various systems to help them drive on their own, including cameras, sensors, and LiDAR. With all of the testing its doing and high-tech tech features that it's packing onto its vehicles, the company claimed that autonomous vehicles could be on the road by next year earlier in February. With the recent incident, that seems like it won't be happening anymore.
"Although this video isn't the full picture, it strongly suggests a failure by Uber's automated driving system," said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina. "The victim is obscured by darkness — but she is moving on an open road. LiDAR and radar absolutely should have detected her and classified her as something other than a stationary object."
With everyone looking into what could have gone wrong, companies have started to come out with ideas on how and why their systems aren't to blame. Velodyne, the maker of the LiDAR system on Uber's vehicles, stated that its components weren't the cause of the accident.
"We are as baffled as anyone else," said Marta Hall, President of Velodyne, in an email to CNET. "Certainly, our LiDAR is capable of clearly imaging Elaine and her bicycle in this situation. However, our LiDAR doesn't make the decision to put on the brakes or get out of her way."
Understandably, Uber and other companies have halted testing driverless vehicles after the accident. While autonomous vehicles are believed to be safer than human drivers, the road to getting self-driving cars on the road will be difficult and riffled with issues. But when autonomous vehicles make the same mistakes as human drivers, it's time to take a hard look at whether chasing a driverless future is worth it.
Vineeth Joel Patel
Joel Patel has been covering all aspects of the automotive industry for four years as an editor and freelance writer for various websites. When it comes to cars, he enjoys covering the merger between technology and cars. In his spare time, Joel likes to watch baseball, work on his car, and try new foods
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