Cause of Uber's autonomous car hitting (and killing) pedestrian found
Earlier in March, an autonomous Uber car, while being tested in Arizona, hit a woman crossing the street. The fatal accident resulted in her death. It was assumed that the sensors in the car could not spot the pedestrian since the accident video showed the car not slowing down before the crash. However, now reports have surfaced with the actual cause of the accident.
Apparently, the vehicle's software did, in fact, detect the pedestrian, but chose to not react accordingly. The software was highly tuned to ignore false positives, which are objects on the street (like plastic bags) for which the vehicle need not slow down. This might have been done for increased rider comfort since treating everything as an obstruction would increase the number of start-and-stop jerks.
According to rules regarding testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, the car did have Rafaela Vasquez, a safety driver, at the wheel. The accident video showed him looking down for several seconds before the crash. The 44-year-old said that "the first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision." It is unclear whether Vasquez will be legally held responsible for the accident.
In the wake of the accident, Uber has currently halted all of its autonomous vehicle testing operations across all cities including Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Francisco and Phoenix. The company is conducting a joint investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board. The outcome of the incident is awaited, as it will define the implications on autonomous vehicles and their use on roads going forward.