Radar in Uber's self-driving vehicle detected pedestrian Elaine Herzberg more than five seconds before the SUV crashed into her, according to a new report from the National Safety Transportation Board. Unfortunately, a series of poor software design decisions prevented the software from taking any action until 0.2 seconds before the deadly crash in Tempe, Arizona.
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Herzberg's death occurred in March 2018, and the NTSB published its initial report on the case in May of that year. That report made clear that badly written software, not failing hardware, was responsible for the crash that killed Herzberg.
Two things are noteworthy about this sequence of events. First, at no point did the system classify her as a pedestrian. According to the NTSB, that's because "the system design did not include consideration for jaywalking pedestrians."
Second, the constantly switching classifications prevented Uber's software from accurately computing her trajectory and realizing she was on a collision course with the vehicle. You might think that if a self-driving system sees an object moving into the path of the vehicle, it would put on its brakes even if it wasn't sure what kind of object it was. But that's not how Uber's software worked.
I've said for some time that I'll never ride in one of these things, but now I need to expand that - I don't want any of these on the roads where I might be.