A pedestrian accident involving an autonomous Uber vehicle has called the safety of self-driving technology into question. In late March, a 49-year-old woman was struck and killed by the Volvo XC90 SUV while she was walking a bicycle across the street in a Phoenix suburb. The fatal collision occurred even though the driverless vehicle had an operator sitting in the driver’s seat.
There is new information about this accident, including video footage from the vehicle’s internal and external cameras. In the footage, you can see that the operator’s eyes are not on the road for several seconds. Moments later, the vehicle crashes into the woman as she is crossing the street. The operator must take control of the autonomous vehicle during emergencies.
Internal documents and sources who spoke with the New York Times suggest Uber was having trouble with its autonomous vehicles before the crash. According to the article, Uber’s self-driving Volvos had problems performing basic traffic maneuvers before the accident occurred. For instance, the article mentions the vehicles have trouble maneuvering in construction zones or near large vehicles.
Several experts have also offered their opinions on the crash. According to a robotics expert at Carnegie Mellon University, the vehicle’s light ranging and detection laser system (LiDAR) should have spotted the pedestrian. There has been speculation that the sensors or vehicle software malfunctioned before the crash. Waymo, a business competitor of Uber, claimed its technology would have detected the pedestrian.
How Safe Is Current Self-Driving Technology?
Other recent accidents have hurt the reputation of self-driving technology. In 2016, a Tesla Model S using Autopilot crashed into a semi-truck, killing its occupant. Most recently, an engineer working at Apple died after his Tesla Model X crashed into a highway median with Autopilot on.
Who is responsible for a self-driving car accident? This is an important question that needs to be considered going forward. Self-driving technology is still new, and there could be many more years of testing on roads across the country.