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Autonomous Uber Crash: Pedestrian Blamed

The crash was the first fatal incident involving an autonomous vehicle.

By James Nunns

A fatal crash involving an Uber vehicle driving in autonomous mode was likely the fault of 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg, according to the chief of Tempe Police, speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle after the collision on Sunday.

Herzberg was “pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags,” according to the Chronicle, when she “abruptly walked from a center median into a lane of traffic.”

After viewing video captured by the Uber vehicle, Sylvia Moir concluded that “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.”

The crash was the first fatal incident involving an autonomous vehicle – one of the hottest new emerging technologies and estimated by analysts to be worth some $7 trillion in global service revenue by 2050.

Uber, which has suspended its self-driving car program in response. said in a statement on Twitter: “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators are reported to have been dispatched to the scene to collect evidence and make an independent assessment.

The NTSB ruled that one reason an earlier crash – involving a  Model S Tesla operating in Autopilot mode – crashed into a tractor-trailer illegally crossing in front of it was “overreliance on automation.”

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That NTSB report resulted in the board issuing seven safety recommendations.

These addressed the need for event data to be captured and available in standard formats on new vehicles equipped with automated vehicle control systems.

They also requested that manufacturers incorporate system safeguards to limit the use of automated control systems to conditions for which they are designed and for there to be a method to verify those safeguards.

It also called for autonomous vehicle manufacturers to develop applications that “more effectively sense a driver’s level of engagement and alert when engagement is lacking”; and it called for manufacturers to report incidents, crashes, and exposure numbers involving vehicles equipped with automated vehicle control systems.

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