Korea Plans New Self-Driving Safety Measures After Uber Crash

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The world's first traffic accident involving an autonomous vehicle that resulted in a pedestrian death is prompting new self-driving safety measures in South Korea, with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport revealing it's presently in the process of planning a cutting-edge smart traffic solution meant to minimize the chances of such an accident happening on the public roads of the Far Eastern country. The incident in question saw a self-driving Volvo XC90 SUV from Uber hit a 49-year-old woman who was jaywalking over a high-speed and poorly lit four-lane road in Tempe, Arizona, on March 18. While a preliminary investigation conducted by local authorities suggests Uber's car wasn't at fault for the crash, the fact that the car made no attempt to break as it apparently hasn't identified the pedestrian raised numerous concerns.

Even though the overall traffic conditions made it hard for a human driver to see the pedestrian and avoid a collision in time, the self-driving LiDAR system of the vehicle should be light-agnostic and detect surrounding objects irrespective of the time of the day or general visibility. The fact that Uber's Volvo models lack more side-mounted and other LiDARs save for the one on the roof — unlike its older Ford Fusion vehicles retired in 2016 — raised concerns that the firm may have reduced the overall safety of its experimental cars in favor of cutting costs or accelerating the deployment of its driverless fleet. The San Francisco-based startup suspended all U.S. self-driving tests following the incident and the future of its driverless program remains unclear after the firm suggested it's leaving its autonomous vehicle testing permit in California expire at the end of this month, whereas Arizona also banned it from conducting trials for an indefinite period following the Tempe incident.

Seoul wants to avoid such scenarios and is presently investigating a number of technologies that would allow it to do so, according to recent statements from its officials. The new Cooperative Intelligence Transport Systems (C-ITS) project is meant to deliver in-depth route maps that will be fed to driverless vehicles in order to have them understand their surroundings more effectively regardless of the time of the day or weather conditions in which they're operating. Korea's autonomous driving tests are still largely limited to a fake city in the Gyeonggi province built exclusively for such trials but are expected to move to public roads on a significant scale by 2019.

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