We’ve all heard and read that the self-driving car revolution is going to happen in the very near future. Autonomous cars can sense their environment and navigate throughout the roadways without any human interaction or input. They are supposed to reduce mobility and infrastructure costs as well as increase safety and reduce the number of traffic collisions.
Many companies are jumping at the chance to be at the forefront of innovation when it comes to self-driving cars such as Google, BMW, Nissan, Ford, General Motors, Tesla, and Mercedes Benz. Another company that joined the bandwagon of self-driving cars was ride-sharing giant, Uber. The company first announced that it would be unveiling a fleet of self-driving cars in February 2015. Shortly after this announcement, Arizona governor Doug Ducey invited Uber to test drive these cars in the state.
In addition to testing these cars out in Arizona, there were also some tested in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. However, there were issues in both cities according to an article on Techradar.com—and this past March there was a self-driving car accident in Tempe, Arizona as they were testing this Uber fleet.
WHAT HAPPENED IN ARIZONA?
In March of this year, an experimental Uber vehicle that was operating on the self-driving mode killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This was the first fatality of its kind in the United States and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) immediately opened an investigation into the accident. On May 24 this year, they released their preliminary report about what caused the accident.
According to the NTSB report, the vehicle’s perception module had trouble identifying the pedestrian who was crossing a four-lane road. The car’s radar detected her six seconds before the accident, but it classified her as an unknown object and not as a person. Although the car did have an emergency braking system, it had been disabled to prevent conflict with the self-driving system. The human operator who was in the car failed to break-in time and the pedestrian died later from her injuries.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Since this incident, Uber has suspended testing for its self-driving fleet. It’s unclear if and when they will resume testing. The Tempe incident was unfortunate, and it caused a flood of debate over policy, laws, and liability.
Who was responsible for this pedestrian’s death? Was it Uber, the car manufacturer, the human operator, or the state of Arizona for allowing this testing to occur? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t yet established standards for autonomous vehicles, which means we are kind of in the “Wild West” days of self-driving vehicle incidents.
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