Elaine Herzberg was killed while crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona, earlier this year after being struck by an Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode. The car had a safety rider in the driver’s seat of the car, but did not switch the car to manual control or attempt to stop the vehicle before it hit Herzberg. (Available dash-cam footage from the incident is disturbing.) Now, Uber — the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association are both investigating the crash — believes it has figured out what went wrong with its car. Sources told the Information that the issue was a software built to sense and react to objects on the road.
From the Information:
The car’s sensors detected the pedestrian, who was crossing the street with a bicycle, but Uber’s software decided it didn’t need to react right away. That’s a result of how the software was tuned. Like other autonomous vehicle systems, Uber’s software has the ability to ignore “false positives,” or objects in its path that wouldn’t actually be a problem for the vehicle, such as a plastic bag floating over a road. In this case, Uber executives believe the company’s system was tuned so that it reacted less to such objects. But the tuning went too far, and the car didn’t react fast enough, one of these people said.
Herzberg is believed to be the first person killed by a car operating autonomously. Following her death, Arizona’s governor suspended all Uber driverless testing in the state indefinitely.