Tuesday, March 27, 2018

More on the fatal Uber self-driving car accident

People have been checking out Uber's story, and things are not looking good for Uber:
On Sunday night, an Uber self-driving car killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona. A key argument in Uber's defense has been that the road was so dark that even an attentive driver would not have spotted Herzberg in the seconds before the crash. 
Herzberg "came from the shadows right into the roadway," Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday. "The driver said it was like a flash." 
But then people in the Tempe area started making their own videos—videos that give a dramatically different impression of that section of roadway. 
In this nighttime video, posted to YouTube by Brian Kaufman on Wednesday, the scene of the crash can be seen around 0:33. Features at the sides of the road—including curbs, signs, and bushes—are clearly visible. No pedestrians walk into the road during the video, but it seems clear that Herzberg would have been visible much earlier if the Uber video had been taken with this camera.
At the very least, it looks like Uber has poor sensors.  The Uber video shows that the car's headlights only illuminate the road 2 seconds ahead.  This is far below the legal standard for headlights, which strongly suggests that Uber's video is not the end of the story here.  Add in that the human operator was staring at his phone for the entire time during which the accident occurred - over 5 seconds.  There's no way that the driver could have done anything to save the pedestrian with that lack of attention.

And it seems that the Arizona government agrees - Uber told to suspend all self-driving car testing in Arizona:
Uber was told on Monday evening to suspend its autonomous car-testing program in Arizona. The move follows the death of Elaine Herzberg, a pedestrian who was struck and killed by one of the company's self-driving vehicles on March 18. According to the Associated Press, Governor Doug Ducey told Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi that public safety should be a top priority, and that "[t]he incident that took place... is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation."
This sounds like the Arizona government doesn't believe that Uber has been entirely candid about the accident.

I suspect that when the complete report on this comes out we will see a number of factors contributing to the pedestrian's death: sub-par sensors, lack of radar to complement visual sensors, sub-par software that didn't recognize a dangerous situation, and a driver so lulled into complacency that he was paying attention to everything BUT the road.

None of this recommends self-driving cars as remotely ready for prime time.


ASM826 said...

The combination of software and hardware that was driving the car may indeed be inadequate to the task but it does not follow that the passenger is a problem. If it's self-driving, it's self driving. There is no human driver. The passenger sitting in the car had been given every reason to not be paying attention in the same way as if he was a passenger on a bus.

Borepatch said...

ASM826, maybe in a production car. But this is a beta test - maybe an alpha test (the feature set may be incomplete). There's no way that the driver should be considered a passenger at this stage.

SiGraybeard said...

The Uber video is clearly underexposed. The other videos (by locals) are much closer to what you'd expect to see. As the article points out, the headlights are supposed to illuminate the area better than what we see. So if something isn't visible in the video and the headlights are working properly, the conclusion has to be that the video is underexposed. Whether that's deliberately done to make Uber look better is a possible explanation that should be investigated.

ASM826 said...

And when you beta test equipment, you have to expect some failures and errors. That's the point of beta testing. If they reapply the key learnings, the next version will be better.