The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says that an Uber self-driving car that struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona in 2018 was unable to detect jaywalkers.
Elaine Herzberg died in March 2018 when an Uber vehicle struck her as she walked across a darkened street in Tempe.
The board said the Uber autonomous driving system spotted Herzberg before hitting her but a system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been automatically disabled.
“According to data obtained from the self-driving system, the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about six seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling at 43 mph,” the report said. “As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision.”
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology uses lasers to measure distances and is deployed on autonomous cars to provide a continuous 360 degrees view.
“According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior,” the report added. “The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.”
Authorities say records show the backup driver was streaming a television show on her phone in the moments before the crash.
Data from the self-driving system showed that the vehicle operator intervened less than a second before impact by engaging the steering wheel, the NTSB report said, noting that the car was traveling at 39 mph at impact. “The operator began braking less than a second after the impact,” the report added. “The data also showed that all aspects of the self-driving system were operating normally at the time of the crash, and that there were no faults or diagnostic messages.”
In its report, the NTSB said that “technological advancements have been made to the software for pedestrian and bike detection and to include jaywalking as a variable.”
The board will meet Nov. 19 as part of its investigation into the crash and is expected to release recommendations on the operation of self-driving cars.
With the investigation ongoing, Uber declined to comment on the contents of the NTSB report. However, the company told Fox News that, in the wake of the Tempe tragedy, it has adopted “critical program improvements to further prioritize safety.”
“We regret the March 2018 crash involving one of our self-driving vehicles that took Elaine Herzberg’s life,” an Uber spokesperson said, via email. “We deeply value the thoroughness of the NTSB’s investigation into the crash and look forward to reviewing their recommendations once issued after the NTSB’s board meeting later this month.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers