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."
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