An Uber self-driving test vehicle that struck and killed an Arizona woman in 2018 had software flaws, according to a USA agency's report which also reveals the company's autonomous test vehicles were involved in multiple crashes in the 18 months prior to the incident. The US National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday released more than 400 pages of reports and supporting documents on the March 2018 crash that killed 49-yearold Elaine Herzberg as she walked her bicycle across a road at night in Arizona.
The NTSB found plenty of "safety and design lapses" which acted against preventing an entirely preventable crash. Herzberg would likely be alive if Uber hadn't blocked its vehicle from using a built-in automatic emergency brake, the board found, though it will not issue its decision on what caused the death until its meeting later in November. NTSB is scheduled to do that at a November 19 meeting. There was a safety driver in the vehicle at the time, but reports indicate they were not watching the road. "I think they were playing fast and loose with people's lives, and Elaine Hertzberg has paid the price".
Data from the self-driving system showed that the vehicle operator intervened less than a second before impact by engaging the steering wheel, the NTSB report said, noting that the auto was traveling at 39 miles per hour at impact.
She declined to say how long Uber had been aware of the failure to recognize a pedestrian not in a crosswalk, and said the company is not commenting on specifics of the investigation because it is ongoing. Hit as she crossed the street, Herzberg would die in a hospital. But it now appears that the NTSB has a different opinion.
The NTSB said during its investigation it "communicated several safety-relevant issue areas [to Uber] that were uncovered during the course of the investigation".
The safety driver behind the wheel of the vehicle was watching a video on a mobile device and didn't see Herzberg in time.
Local prosecutors are still considering pressing manslaughter charges against her, but have decided against prosecuting Uber as an entity. The company hopes to bring its self-driving cars back to other cities such as San Francisco, Abboud said Wednesday, but is focusing right now on using human drivers to collect data on those particular locations that it can incorporate into its testing in controlled environments.
The NTSB said between September 2016 and March 2018, there were 37 crashes of Uber vehicles in autonomous mode, including 33 that involved another vehicle striking test vehicles. Unfortunately, prior to the 2018 crash, Uber would automatically disable Volvo's collision prevention system when Uber's own technology was active. "This is a 1-second period for the duration of which the [automated driving system] suppresses prepared braking even though the method verifies the mother nature of the detected hazard and calculates an alternate path, or auto operator takes manage of the vehicle or truck".
The safety driver involved in the accident told investigators that "sometimes the vehicle would swerve towards a bicycle". However, after the accidents, the company has discontinued the function as part of its software update.
The report cites two other instances where Uber's vehicles may have failed to understand roadway hazards. The company, in its statement, said that it had also had safety policies and procedures though not a formal safety plan.