The dead have just been buried, and only a week has passed. There are no concrete facts. but already Uber's competition Waymo as well as AV technology company Mobileye are starting to claim their superiority.
Geoff Robins/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images
CEO of Waymo, John Krafcik, speaks at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
It always easy to be right after the fact, but in reality, neither Waymo or Mobileye have been in the situation Uber is in, and thankfully so. It is a fact that we learn from our mistakes, and that technologies take a spurt of evolution in every war. However, we would prefer that the AV war would not claim any lives. That is a naïve statement, and in reality, Uber was the second company to claim a life in the AV technology sector and will most probably not be the last.
Waymo CEO, John Krafcik, said that Waymo's cars are intensively programmed to avoid calamities similar to what happened to Elaine Herzberg in Arizona. He told the press that "I can say with some confidence that in situations like that one with pedestrians, in this case, a pedestrian with a bicycle. We have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that." When Krafcik was asked a direct question relating to the accident and whether Waymo would have undergone a similar situation in place of Uber, he said, "I want to be really respectful of Elaine, the woman who lost her life and her family. I also want to recognize the fact that there are many different investigations going on now regarding what happened in Tempe on Sunday. Based on our knowledge of what we've seen so far with that accident and our own knowledge of the robustness that we've designed into our systems."
Waymo is currently testing its flee of Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Phoenix Arizona, in the worlds first fully automated and driverless (even without a safety driver) rideshare pilot.
When Krafcik was asked to back up his statements, he explained that Waymo has an extensive hardware and software testing system in place. Every bit of information taken from real time is tested over to assure that all registered situations can be checked from every angle. The Waymo AV equipment goes through constant testing, with virtual tests occurring simultaneously to real life testing, round the clock.
Last year Waymo sent a 43-page detailed report to federal agencies, claiming that "We've staged people jumping out of canvas bags or porta-potties on the side of the road, skateboarders lying on their boards, and thrown stacks of paper in front of our sensors."
Krafcik declined to comment directly about Uber's mistake and preferred to defer the question by answering "For those of us at Waymo, it was a very sad day. Because that was an accident that was in a car that had technology representing the self-driving space. And for those of us at Waymo, it is that mission of safety and avoiding accidents just like that one that really brings us all together as a company. It struck us in a really major way."
Uber's response to Krafcik's claims was released through their spokesperson last week, "We believe that technology has the power to make transportation safer than ever before and recognize our responsibility to contribute to safety in our communities. So as we develop self-driving technology, safety is our primary concern every step of the way. We're heartbroken by what happened this week, and our cars remain grounded. We continue to assist investigators in any way we can."
Another AV technology developer is Israeli based Mobileye, this company was bought out by Intel, and its co-founder and CEO Amnon Shashua had this to say about the incident, which he posted on Intel's blog page "Despite the low-quality imaging from the police video, Mobileye's ADAS technology was able to detect the pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, and the bicycle she was pushing across the road approximately one second before impact."
This was backed up by Mobileye when they took the video footage from the police and processed it through their advanced driver assistance system (ADAS).
Shashua has been a big critic of inexperienced newcomers to the AV scene, stating more than once that the so-called "accumulated years" of experience of newcomers such as Uber, cannot make up for years of trial and error that companies like Mobileye have gone through. Mobileye is one of the worlds first LiDAR system developers and specializes in early warning safety systems. Their products can be found in over 24 million vehicles worldwide.
Shashua is a proponent in using proven safety systems as an integral part of any new AV technology, and stated quite emphatically that "I firmly believe the time to have a meaningful discussion on a safety validation framework for fully autonomous vehicles is now." He is a critic of companies developing the wheel from scratch when wheels are abundant, and Mobileye is one of the leading safety systems on the roads today.
Mobileye has concentrated on one specific section of AV and is not an AV company, they do have proven ability in selling quality products for early warning systems to drivers. However, the question remains, is ADARS incorporated in any AV system or not?
In regard to Waymo, we know there is no love lost between the two companies, Waymo is most probably very happy at the demise of Uber even if they claim otherwise.
Uber, is perhaps the only company to truly learn from this situation, and they are in the midst of negotiating with Toyota, which could now be impaired by this outcome.
We will wait for the official results, and not rely on hearsay to deduce conclusions.