Automotive

Arizona bans Uber's self-driving cars as rival weighs in on fatal crash

Arizona bans Uber's self-drivi...
Uber's self-driving cars have been banned from the US state of Arizona
Uber's self-driving cars have been banned from the US state of Arizona
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Uber's self-driving cars have been banned from the US state of Arizona
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Uber's self-driving cars have been banned from the US state of Arizona

The state of Arizona has acted decisively following the fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber and a pedestrian last week. Today Governor Doug Ducey banned the company from testing autonomous vehicles on Arizona's roads, citing unacceptable risks to public safety in a letter addressed to the ride-sharing company's CEO.

The incident took place in the city of Tempe, in the Phoenix area, last week and is believed to be the first pedestrian death attributed to an autonomous car. A human was in the driver's seat at the time, but the car was confirmed to be operating in autonomous mode when it struck a 49-year-old woman at around 40 mph (64 km/h), with no sign of slowing down.

Uber responded by suspending its self-driving operations after the crash and announced it was cooperating with the investigation being carried out by Tempe Police. Authorities have since released footage of the incident, showing camera footage of both the road ahead and the human behind the wheel.

In what could be seen as a thinly veiled exercise in self-promotion, fellow autonomous vehicle startup Mobile has taken it upon itself to run its own self-driving software over this footage. Pointing out that the available vision is of much poorer quality than what its onboard systems would be relying on in a real-world scenario, CTO Ammon Shashua says Mobileye's system detected the person an entire second before the crash, which is a long time when it comes to an opportunity to apply the brakes and reduce the impact of a collision.

On one hand, you do wonder if this is the right time for a rival to showcase their superior product. But on the other hand, whether this is a failing on Uber's part or the autonomous vehicle industry as a whole is a question that is still very much unanswered. Any evidence that helps to clarify that query has to be a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.

In a rather damning letter addressed to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshai today, Governor Ducey made it clear that Arizona wouldn't be welcoming the company's self-driving cars back anytime soon.

"The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation [that public safety is the top priority]," the letter reads. "While the incident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Arizona must take action now.

"In the best interests of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber's ability to test and operate autonomous vehicle's on Arizona's public roadways. Arizona will not tolerate any less than an unequivocal commitment to public safety."

Sources: Twitter (Bianca Buono), Intel

13 comments
Insanity
In no way am I defending Uber, but in 2016 (latest figures published) there were 126,987 vehicle collisions in Arizona, 1,643 involved a pedestrian. In total there were 856 fatalities. I didn't read about them banning humans from driving because they caused fatalities so why ban autonomous vehicles? The ratio of deaths per vehicle seems to be much lower for autonomous vehicles than for human controlled ones. The banning of these vehicles, in the writers opinion seems to be a good thing. He is wrong. Whilst I don't think it should be overlooked, maybe they should be made to have better safeguards but banning something because it is easy despite the damage being much less than something else does not seem very progressive to me. Switching to autonomous cars is a good thing and should be encouraged. Arizona should work with the manufacturers, not against them.
Rocky Stefano
I doubt a person would have been able to stop in time under the circumstances. That being said, an autonomous vehicle should be much faster than a human driver. Having said that, I think its pathetic for a competitor to gloat over a failure resulting in death.
Username
Why doesn't the good governor band human driven cars? They've been involved in many more deaths. With this technophobe attitude we would all still living in caves.
the webman
With all due respect to the previous posters, the fact that the software didn't react strongly suggests that there's a serious problem that needs to be fixed. I for one do not want to serve as a beta testing guinea pig for them. They need to identify, fully disclose what happened, and demonstrate how they've fixed the problem before they should be allowed back on the road. I agree that autonomous vehicles offer the promise of increased safety, but if they're running down pedestrians without applying the brakes, then they need to be further tested in a safe, non-public environment.
alan c
If you watch the video of the driver it is very clear that she was looking at her 'phone (which is out of site of the camera) for several seconds at a time, and reacting to what she was reading. She was there as a backup in case the Uber system failed - when it did fail she wasn't doing her job. So, Uber failure followed by human failure.
f8lee
In the footage it's apparent that the oblivious moron who is crossing the street (not at a crosswalk) in an unlit or poorly lit section wearing dark clothing is completely at fault, as she would be had the driver been a human who was not impaired. In LA it seems there's a story every few weeks about some pedestrian being hit when crossing illegally (and stupidly, frankly) - if the driver remains and calls for help he or she is not cited. As for the politicians or other AV companies who grandstand on this accident (without pointing out explicitly the "victim's" complicity) - they are just crappy people.
Jack Decker
As Voltaire once said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." If the goal is perfection, the goal will NEVER be reached. Autonomous cars will NEVER be perfect. Those who are against them will try to make this the government's requirement for them. But the real question should be "Are autonomous cars significantly better than humans?" We can argue over what is and isn't significant but the perfection-demanding opponents cannot win such a debate since their stance is clearly unachievable and unrealistic. Having said that, every time one of these accidents occur and autonomous vehicle designers learn from it, the cars will perform that much better. Yes, a very costly way of learning but the alternative is what? And having said that, I do wonder why the autonomous vehicle couldn't see the pedestrian. Wasn't it using radar and/or lasers? Yes, the pedestrian was dress in dark clothes at night but that shouldn't matter to either radar or lasers. So why didn't either see her? Not just see her but track her and predict her likely paths? For this reason, I believe it was a good decision for Uber to suspend its self-driving operations until they can figure this out and for the State of Arizona to suspend their test license. And do note that the governor said "suspend".
f8lee
To the commenter "Alan C" who mentions the engineer looking at her phone - perhaps that WAS her job - seeing what the various readouts were? It dose seem as though there is a bevy of gear positioned around her, after all.
piperTom
So "Arizona has acted decisively following..."? I would have said Arizona acted rashly. Uber had already suspended its testing, so the effect of the ban is that the governor got his name in the papers. ...and Uber (and others) will move their testing to a more reasonable state. Self driving is the future; self serving governors and the past.
christopher
The word "Driving" requires intelligence, and "Self Driving" has none - the reason they call it "MAchine Learning" and NOT "Artificial Intelligence" is because there is NO INTELLIGENCE. The car did not stop, because it had never before encountered someone arrogant enough to require a car to give way to a pedestrian when walking in front - every human driver would have known to stop, but the car did not, because it can only do what it has learned, and it never gets any chance to learn from unusual situations, and since it has no intelligence, it cannot ever know what to do when it encounters one. The entire concept of self-driving cars needs to be shelved - it's a selfish idea for rich people only. If people want to move around without paying attention, we should build US ALL a new and safe transport system that does that - not throw dangerous tech into an already dangerous situation and just abuse whatever gets in our way.