Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
It was bound to happen, and it has, Uber has been told by the State of Arizona that its license to drive AV's has been suspended indefinitely. This decision comes a week after an Uber Volvo AV hit a jaywalking pedestrian crossing the street with a bike at night. The Uber safety driver was not watching the road at the moment of impact, but most experts agree that even if he had been watching, his reaction time would not have been enough to avert the accident when factoring in the neurological factor that the driver would have considered. These factors include the delay in reaction to allow the AV to stop or divert the impact. This means that the driver would first wait for the car to change course or decelerate before taking over control. In urgent situations, this lag is not enough, and in this specific case, even if he were to watch the road, he only had about a second to decide and react.
This death is not the first to be caused by an AV; it is the first where a pedestrian was killed. This death will not be the last either, so long as there are people on the roads, there will be accidents. This crash comes after a year of intense AV development and testing. Uber originally tested in the State of California, but San Francisco's strict policies forced them to relocate to Arizona, where the regulations are less restrictive.
The ban was issued by the office of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday. Gov. Ducey wrote a letter stating that the decision was made with the "the best interests of the people" of Arizona due to Uber's "unquestionable failure." Ducey's also referred to the dash cam video of the crash, which Tempe PD released last week as, "disturbing and alarming."
Ducey wrote to Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi that "Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona's approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona. The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation."
The New York Times is noted to have stated a few times that Uber's concerns with safety came second to their urgency to prevail in the AV development race. Their time to failure is much shorter than rivals Waymo.
According to Aptiv, the LiDAR provider for the Volvo SUV's claims that Uber deactivated the standard collision-avoidance technology in the car.
Aptiv spokesman Zach Peterson told the press that "We don't want people to be confused or think it was a failure of the technology that we supply for Volvo because that's not the case." According to Peterson, the Volvo XC90's standard advanced driver-assistance system is a separate entity and is not integrated with the Uber AV system.
Obviously, Aptiv is taking a step back, using the finger pointing method to disassociate the unprofane accident with their technology.
President of Velodyne LiDAR Inc, Marta Thoma Hall stated that she was surprised their technology did not detect the woman and told the media that "Certainly, our LiDAR is capable of clearly imaging Elaine and her bicycle in this situation. However, our LiDAR doesn't make the decision to put on the brakes or get out of her way. In addition to LiDAR, autonomous systems typically have several sensors, including camera and radar to make decisions. We don't know what sensors were on the Uber car that evening, if they were working, or how they were being used."
This statement is very important for the AV industry because it is separating the detection from the reaction. Which is how a human reacting, the brain (LiDAR) sees something, it processes what it sees and sends warning signals to the software that they must process how to react. A human will react by moving an arm or a leg, the reaction time and the reaction might be correct or not, but there is usually a reaction. With the AV system, there might have been detection, but was there a reaction? This is something that The National Transportation Safety Board and local police in Tempe, AZ., will need to decide during their investigation of the accident.
The crash has made a lot of waves, and while it is unfortunate, it was bound to and did happen. What can only come as compensation to the victims (Elena Herzberg) family, apart from insurance, is that the world of AV learns from the reasons why the accident occurred and address these issues across all AV developers.
Uber is currently remaining silent and waiting for the investigation to deliver results.