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NTSB Releases Initial Report on What Went Wrong in Self-Driving Uber Crash

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The biggest story in the field of self-driving vehicles has been, and is still, the self-driving Uber that hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, back in March. While there has been a lot of speculation and finger-pointing (all of which was at Uber) as to what went wrong, we now have the closest thing to official word thanks to an initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the fatal collision.

Things seem to have gone wrong in two main ways.

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The first way has to do with the self-driving vehicle system. The Uber’s sensors detected Elaine Herzberg, who was walking her bicycle laden with plastic grocery bags, as she crossed the street, about six seconds before the collision. The system first classified her as an unknown object, then as a vehicle, then as a bicycle, with “varying expectations of future travel path,” according to the NTSB report. Finally, 1.3 seconds ahead of impact, the system determined that the Uber needed to emergency brake to mitigate a collision, but the system is not allowed to activate emergency braking maneuvers on its own. Uber told the NTSB that emergency braking is left entirely up to the vehicle operator in order to avoid “erratic vehicle behavior,” but that the system does not have the ability to alert the operator.

Meanwhile, although Uber requires the vehicle operators to keep eyes on the road at all times, it also requires operators to monitor diagnostic messages that appear on the interface mounted on the vehicle’s center stack, tagging events of interest for later review. The safety driver that was behind the wheel during the fatal crash said that she was looking at this interface just prior to the collision.

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The NTSB investigation is still ongoing, so recommendations of what to change haven’t been issued, but are expected to be released with the final report.

News Source: National Transportation Safety Board