Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Markets | By Noel Gibbs

Fatal autonomous Uber crash report says vehicle wasn’t programmed to brake

Fatal autonomous Uber crash report says vehicle wasn’t programmed to brake

View of the self-driving system data playback at about 1.3 seconds before impact, when the system determined an emergency braking maneuver would be needed to mitigate a collision.

It said Uber's system "is not created to alert the operator", who is expected "to intervene and take action" in an emergency.

The report gives new fuel to opponents in Congress who have stalled a bill created to speed the deployment of self-driving cars on USA roads and puts a spotlight on the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is also investigating, does not test self-driving vehicles or certify them before they are deployed on US roads.

On-board software initially classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, then as a vehicle, and finally as a bicycle in the seconds leading up to the crash, though the vehicle couldn't definitively predict the bike's path and adjust accordingly. Uber engineers had disconnected the system, fearing conflicts between the Volvo unit and their own system. But since the computer system is still being tested it is programmed to not actually make emergency braking maneuvers to avoid erratic driving behavior in traffic. "Uber's system couldn't properly understand and react to its surroundings and relied excessively on the human operator, and was far too unsafe to be tested off a closed track". "The system is not created to alert the operator", says the NTSB.

In response, Uber ceased all its autonomous vehicle testing across the US.

-Emergency braking was disabled while the computer was in control.

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In addition, the operator is responsible for monitoring diagnostic messages that appear on an interface in the center stack of the vehicle dash and tagging events of interest for subsequent review.

When the Uber self-driving cars operate in "manual mode", with a human driver behind the wheel, the cars use Volvo's standard safety systems, including forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, the report said.

System logs from Uber's prototype robotaxi indicate that the car's software struggled to classify 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as it hurled towards her at 40 miles per hour, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The company noted it also hired former NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart earlier this month in an advisory role. It has started a review of its self-driving vehicle program and plans to announce changes to its safety procedures in the coming weeks.

Not coincidentally, Uber formally ended its self-driving testing in Arizona the day before the NTSB report was released.

Elaine Herzberg should not have been where she was and doing what she was doing at the time of the crash. That irked Pittsburgh's mayor who said the company needed to make serious changes to its autonomous program before it could get back on the road.

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Federal safety investigators have not given a cause for the crash.

The NTSB seems to lay partial blame on the pedestrian as well.

The operator used the steering wheel less than one second before impact and braked less than one second post-impact.

Toxicology tests showed she had taken methamphetamine and marijuana, though the NTSB didn't conclude how intoxicated she may have been. The systems did not alert Vasquez to take control either.

About 550 Uber employees will remain in Arizona working on its other operations in the state, including its traditional ride-hailing service with cars driven by humans responding to requests made through a mobile app. Vasquez told officials that she had both work and personal cellphones in the vehicle, but did not use them until after the crash, when she dialed 911. The NTSB, without comment, outlined the inherent disconnect in Uber's procedures.

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