Autonomous Uber ignored pedestrian it fatally hit, report says

An autonomous vehicle operated by Uber that struck and killed a pedestrian in March was programmed to ignore her, a new report says.

The accident happened on March 18 in Tempe, Ariz., when a Volvo SUV equipped with Uber’s in-development self-driving technology failed to take evasive maneuvers as a woman, Elaine Herzberg, jaywalked across a dark street and into the path of the vehicle. A safety driver in the car also reacted to late to prevent the collision.

Sources briefed on the matter told The Information that Uber executives have determined that the system’s software was programmed with too low of a threshold for identifying objects as “false positives” that don’t need to be avoided.

The system’s sensors might see a large plastic bag flying through the air, for instance, but decide that it’s more dangerous to swerve or stop for it than to just let it hit the vehicle.

The Herzberg incident presented the car with a unique challenge, however, as she was walking alongside a bicycle, creating a profile that was neither clearly a pedestrian, nor a cyclist.

Uber would not comment on the report, saying that it is cooperating with the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) probe into the accident. The company has also hired former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart “to advise us on our overall safety culture.”

This position is in contrast to Tesla’s relationship with the NTSB, which removed Tesla as a party to an investigation into a crash involving one of its Autopilot-equipped vehicles after company CEO Elon Musk publically released information related to the probe.