Self-Driving Uber Saw But Ignored Tempe Woman It Killed: Report

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The self-driving Uber vehicle involved in a fatal Tempe, Arizona traffic accident “saw” the woman it hit in March but decided to ignore her, possibly due to a software bug, The Information reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. While the incident led some industry watchers and experts to question whether Uber’s autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs were properly equipped to deal with 360-degree object recognition as they only feature a single LiDAR, whereas the company’s retired Ford Fusion models had ten such modules, the internal investigation into the matter suggested that the said technology didn’t fail during the crash.

The issue is instead said to be lying in the software meant to combat false positive readings such as newspapers, plastic bags, balloons, or other such objects that could be found on a road or swaying in the wind above one but wouldn’t be an issue for a vehicle to go through. The Volvo XC90 SUV involved in the crash was reportedly tuned to ignore false positives more aggressively and hence failed to react in time when the woman walked out on a four-lane road at night. While tuning a self-driving vehicle to ignore objects may seem counter-intuitive, the main reason Uber has for doing so is developing a car that can drive on its own and be maximally comfortable for passengers. Sources with first-hand experience of driving in vehicles from Google’s Waymo and General Motors say that even the latest prototypes often hit the brakes for no apparent reason, hence offering a jerky and inconsistent riding experience, precisely due to false positive readings.

The backup human driver present in the vehicle involved in what’s believed to be the world’s first self-driving crash with a pedestrian fatality took her eyes off the road moments before the accident happened, according to the footage of the incident. She is still employed by the company, whereas Uber settled with the family of the victim. Its autonomous driving program remains suspended throughout the country and chances of it leading to a commercial service by year-end in accordance with the original plan are now effectively non-existent.