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Uber Self-Driving Volvo in Fatal Crash Was Not Programmed to Brake

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【Summary】The NTSB released its preliminary findings in the investigation involving a self-driving Uber that fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona road in March. The initial findings indicate that the vehicle was not programmed to stop.

Eric Walz    May 24, 2018 12:33 PM PT
Uber Self-Driving Volvo in Fatal Crash Was Not Programmed to Brake

The NTSB released its preliminary findings in the investigation involving a self-driving Uber that fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The initial findings indicate that the vehicle was not programmed to stop.

Although the sensors on Uber's Volvo XC90 SUV detected the woman crossing a street at night outside a crosswalk,  "an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision," according to the National Transportation Safety Board in its preliminary report released Thursday.

But the system couldn't activate the brakes, the NTSB said.

"The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action," the NTSB wrote in the report. "The system is not designed to alert the operator."

"According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior," investigators said.

The Volvo XC90 SUV was also equipped with the company's ‘City Safety' system, a suite of sensors that could activate an automated braking system in emergency situations. It is also capable of detecting driver awareness. However, the systems were disabled by Uber's software engineers, according to NTSB.

Uber's on-board systems concluded the car would hit the pedestrian 1.3 seconds before impact, or about 82 feet (25 meters) away, however the autonomous systems did not alert the safety driver, according to NTSB. In a video released from inside the vehicle, the driver was looking down in the moments before the impact.

The NTSB's preliminary report raises multiple questions about the company's autonomous system as well as the actions of the safety driver and the pedestrian felled in the crash. The pedestrian had drugs in her system and didn't look for traffic, according to the NTSB. The report does not establish what caused the collision.

The crash brought attention to the safety of autonomous cars being tested on public streets. Uber permanently shut down its self-driving operations in Arizona on Wednesday, hours before the release of the NTSB's findings.

Shortly after the fatal crash, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi initiated its own ‘top to bottom" safety review of the company's self-driving vehicles and river training program. The ride-hailing company also hired a former chairman of the NTSB to advise it on its safety culture, the company said. "We look forward to sharing more on the changes we'll make in the coming weeks," the company said in the statement.

Uber has been criticized for rushing to be the first company to launch a robo-taxi service. The company has been accused of compromising the safety of its autonomous test vehicles by conducting tests using a single safety driver instead of using using two.

Initially, Uber placed two safety drivers in each vehicle, one to monitor the road ahead looking for pedestrians, other vehicles or obstructions, while the second person monitored the vehicle's autonomous systems using a laptop computer to keep logs of events, the NTSB said.

Herzberg's family settled legal claims with Uber shortly after the accident, according to an email from their lawyer. The family and Uber did not disclose terms of the settlement.

Uber said it plans to resume its self-driving tests in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto by the summer.

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