Uber self-driving test vehicles have software issues: NTSB Reports

Cornelia Mascio
Novembre 8, 2019

United States federal investigators have determined an Uber self-driving vehicle that killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in the American city of Tempe, Arizona in March 2018 lacked programming to either recognise or respond to the presence of jaywalkers on the road, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

The NTSB found plenty of "safety and design lapses" which acted against preventing an entirely preventable crash.

That reconstructed schedule was revealed in documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday as part of the agency's investigation into the crash.

NTSB investigators will be meeting in a matter of weeks (19 November) in Washington, DC to finalise their report on the crash, including a determination of cause. However, the company told Fox News that, in the wake of the Tempe tragedy, it has adopted "critical program improvements to further prioritize safety".

In the aftermath of the crash, Uber suspended all testing and did not resume until December a year ago, in Pennsylvania with revised software and significant new restrictions and safeguards. "I think they were playing fast and loose with people's lives, and Elaine Hertzberg has paid the price". At 1.5 seconds before impact, she became an "unknown" object and was once against classified as "static". Bloomberg reported today that the NTSB initial findings, ahead of a public hearing on the case later this month, conclude that Uber's self-driving technology hadn't been programmed to detect jaywalkers at all.

Herzberg was crossing the road outside of a crosswalk.

The Arizona accident further led to important safety concerns about the self-driving auto industry which is working towards getting the self-driving vehicle into commercial use. But it now appears that the NTSB has a different opinion.

Another issue in the report surrounds Uber's decision to create a one-second delay for its crash detection system in order to cut down on the possibility of false alarms.

Vasquez, the driver behind the wheel the night of Herzberg's death, usually worked the "Juliet" shift, from 4 p.m.to 2:30 a.m. from Friday to Monday.

In March, prosecutors in Arizona said Uber was not criminally liable in the self-driving crash. Other companies, such as GM's Cruise affiliate, use two. In the seven months leading up to the fatal crash, Uber vehicles were involved in 37 accidents. Unfortunately, prior to the 2018 crash, Uber would automatically disable Volvo's collision prevention system when Uber's own technology was active.

But another major problem was software's inability to identify a person in the car's sights, and its resulting failure to predict how that person would move into the vehicle's path. Uber's system perceived Herzberg as a vehicle, a bicycle and an "other" object in the seconds before collision - but not a human being.

The Uber Advanced Technologies Group unit that was testing self-driving cars on public streets in Tempe didn't have a standalone safety division, a formal safety plan, standard operating procedures or a manager focused on preventing accidents, according to NTSB.

The board said the Uber autonomous driving system spotted Herzberg before hitting her but a system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially unsafe situations had been automatically disabled.

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