Experts Say Self-Driving Uber Car Should Have Stopped

Nearly a week after the incident of a self-driving Uber SUV killing a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, self-driving car analysts and experts are saying that the car’s sensors may have been at fault. After analyzing the dash-cam video of the fatal crash, experts suggest that the car’s sensors should have been able to detect the pedestrian and stop before it was too late.

On March 18, the Uber driverless vehicle, operated by Rafaela Vasquez, crashed into and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg, who was walking her bicycle and crossing an open road. It was the first time a self-driving car has been reported to kill a pedestrian.

Sensors and video footage show that the vehicle did not slow down or respond to Herzberg’s presence. It instead crashed into her at 38 mph in a 45 mph zone. The footage also shows Vasquez periodically looking at her lap instead of keeping her hands on the wheel as per Uber directive. According to CNET, she only looked up moments before the vehicle crashed into Herzberg.

Experts have questioned why the car’s built-in Lidar sensors did not detect Herzberg’s presence on the road. Velodyne, the manufacturer of the detecting equipment, issued a statement Friday saying it was “baffled” by the accident, because Lidar sensors can detect objects in the dark, according to the BBC.

Following reports of the crash, Uber halted all its self-driving car services throughout the country. Uber representatives have said the company is investigating the crash to determine what went wrong. However, a New York Times report indicates that Uber’s autonomous car project may not have been ready for primetime.

While self-driving Waymo cars operated by Google could travel 5,600 miles at a time without needing driver intervention, internal documents obtained by the New York Times indicate that Uber struggled to meet a target goal of 13 miles before driver intervention was required. The result of this failure has been a rise in insurance costs for Uber. The company also failed to compare car insurance quotes to get a good deal, and consequently did not have adequate coverage for its drivers.

In addition, unlike multiple other car companies testing autonomous vehicles, Uber only put one driver in each vehicle, not two, reducing the amount of oversight and safety checks on any given ride. Some employees raised concerns after Uber decided to go with one driver instead of two, according to the New York Times report.

Matt Kallman, a spokesman for Uber, said the company was “heartbroken” by the accident and said the company has promised to assist investigators in figuring out what went wrong.

Khurram Aziz is a web entrepreneur who trained as a journalist. He is a freelance writer, runs online ventures, and consults on WordPress and Magento web development.