Uber hired former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher A. Hart following a March accident involving one of its self-driving vehicles that resulted in a pedestrian death, with the ex-U.S. official now being on a retainer and having the task of helping assess the entirety of the company's autonomous driving program. The startup hasn't shared more details on the matter, citing the still-ongoing review of the March incident helmed by the agency Mr. Hart chaired for two and a half years, having been succeeded by Robert Sumwalt last August. The 70-year-old transportation industry veteran who holds a Harvard law degree and a master's degree in aerospace engineering from Princeton still hasn't commented on his new endeavor in any manner.
Uber suspended its self-driving program in the United States immediately following the Tempe crash, having also been indefinitely barred from any further testing by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. The company still isn't dropping its autonomous vehicle ambitions but its chances of commercializing such a service on any scale by the end of the year like it originally planned are now effectively non-existent. One recent report suggests the self-driving Volvo XC90 SUV that hit a 49-year-old woman earlier this spring saw the victim but ignored her due to a bug that may have been related to the fact it was tuned to ignore false positives more aggressively than usual. Uber could have opted for such a configuration to make its autonomous vehicles more comfortable to ride in, i.e. avoid frequently making sudden stops for no reason due to non-threatening objects such as floating plastic bags or newspapers.
The NTSB will publicize the preliminary findings of its probe into the matter in the coming weeks, an agency spokesperson said. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also looking into the case but the status of its investigation is presently unclear. The accident is believed to be the world's first crash involving a self-driving vehicle that resulted in a pedestrian death. Uber settled with the family of the victim, whereas the backup human driver who failed to stop the incident is still employed by the San Francisco, California-based firm.