Uber has suspended its self-driving operations after one of its vehicles was involved in a fatal collision, causing what is believed to be the first pedestrian death attributed to autonomous cars.
Uber's autonomous car project has been gathering steam since starting off in Pittsburgh in September 2016, deploying self-driving Volvo XC90s in San Francisco, Toronto and in the Phoenix area. It was there, in the city of Tempe, that the accident took place.
Although a human was behind the wheel at the time, the car was operating in autonomous mode, striking a pedestrian crossing the road at approximately 40 mph (64km/h), according to Tempe police, while showing no sign of slowing down. The 49-year-old woman was rushed to hospital and later died from her injuries.
Officials note that the investigation is still in its very early stages, and reporters were told in a press conference on Monday that cameras mounted inside and outside the vehicle captured the accident and the footage will help them learn more. They have confirmed the pedestrian was crossing the road outside the crosswalk.
Uber suspended its self-driving operations following the crash, and announced on Twitter that it was "fully cooperating with Tempe Police and local authorities as they investigate this incident."
The company's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also weighed in on Twitter, saying "some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We're thinking of the victim's family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened."
Autonomous driving is a fast-moving field with a lot of big names investing serious resources in the technology, including Renault, Ford, GM and VW, just to name a few. It is way too early to tell what sort of impact this incident will have on the burgeoning industry, but as the first pedestrian death attributed to an autonomously driven car, it is undoubtedly a significant moment.
"There is still so much to know about the Tempe driverless car accident resulting in a loss of life," tweeted Anthony Foxx, who served as the US Secretary of Transportation during the Obama Administration and has been previously shared his belief in the driverless revolution. "That said, this is a wake up call to the entire AV industry and government to put a high priority on safety."
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