Software behind self-driving car’s crash didn’t recognise jaywalkers

A bicycle leans against the front of an SUV at night

A bicycle leans against the front of an SUV at night

In a preliminary report, the NTSB had already determined that the car's software spotted the 49-year-old woman almost six seconds before the vehicle hit her, as she walked across the street at night with her bicycle in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix.

The documents painted a picture of safety and design lapses with tragic consequences but didn't assign a cause for the crash. Herzberg would likely be alive if Uber hadn't blocked its auto from using a built-in automatic emergency brake, the board found, though it will not issue its decision on what caused the death until its meeting later in November.

Investigators with the NTSB are set to meet with lawmakers in D.C. on November 19 to discuss the report and offer recommendations on how self-driving vehicles should be regulated.

"In the wake of this tragedy, the team at Uber ATG has adopted critical program improvements to further prioritize safety", Uber said.

The NTSB reported at least two prior crashes in which Uber test vehicles may not have identified roadway hazards. "I think they were playing fast and loose with people's lives, and Elaine Hertzberg has paid the price".

In a report released ahead of the meeting, the NTSB said the Uber Technologies Inc vehicle had failed to properly identify her as a pedestrian crossing a street.

In a statement Tuesday, Uber said it's fully cooperating with the NTSB and looks forward to the agency's decision.

Herzberg was crossing the road outside of a crosswalk.

"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 miles per hour", the report said. But the system changed its classification of her as different objects several times and failed to predict that her path would cross the lane of self-driving test SUV, according to the NTSB. According to the NTSB, Uber did a simulation of the new system using sensor data from the fatal Arizona accident.

Vasquez, the driver behind the wheel the night of Herzberg's death, usually worked the "Juliet" shift, from 4 p.m.to 2:30 a.m. from Friday to Monday. Prosecutors have already absolved Uber of criminal liability, but are still weighing criminal charges against the driver.

The NTSB said between September 2016 and March 2018, there were 37 crashes of Uber vehicles in autonomous mode, including 33 that involved another vehicle striking test vehicles. Even if the vehicle braked immediately, that would have been too late to avoid hitting Herzberg, but Uber's software triggered a one-second braking delay so it could consider a possible steering correction. "Sometimes the vehicle would swerve towards a bicycle, but it would always react in some way".

The Uber Advanced Technologies Group unit that was testing self-driving cars on public streets in Tempe didn't have a standalone safety division, a formal safety plan, standard operating procedures or a manager focused on preventing accidents, according to NTSB. That report designed crystal clear that poorly written computer software, not failing hardware, was dependable for the crash that killed Herzberg. In order to cope with long shifts and overnight hours, drivers are required to take a 20-40 minute break after a maximum of four hours driving, documents say, and the company also recommends breaks every two hours.

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