Video Of Deadly Self-Driving Uber Crash Suggests Tech, Human Failures

Experts say the autonomous vehicles sensors should have identified that a person was in the road.

Newly released videos capturing the moments before a self-driving Uber SUV killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, suggest flaws in the company’s technology and inattention by its human backup driver, experts said.

Tempe police released two clips on Wednesday showing the outside and the interior of the Uber vehicle in the moments before it struck a woman pushing her bicycle on a dark road Sunday night. Elaine Herzberg, 49, died from her injuries ― the first fatality from a crash with an autonomous vehicle.

One of the videos shows the Volvo SUV driving down a dark road when Herzberg, with her bicycle, suddenly appears in its headlights. The other clip, of the SUV interior, shows the backup driver looking down at something before the collision, and a look of horror crossing her face as her eyes return to the road.

Warning: This video may be disturbing to some viewers. 

Autonomous driving experts said the footage suggests flaws in Uber’s self-driving system.

Though it was dark and Herzberg was not using a crosswalk, the vehicle’s sensors — which include radar and light-sensing Lidar — should have identified that a person was in the road, they said. 

The videos show “the kind of crash self-driving cars are made to avoid,” Wired magazine wrote.

“This is one [situation] that should have been straightforward” for the car to safely navigate, Steven Shladover, a University of California, Berkeley, research engineer, told the magazine.

Another expert told Reuters that he felt “outrage” when viewing the video.

“Although this video isn’t the full picture, it strongly suggests a failure by Uber’s automated driving system and a lack of due care by Uber’s driver (and by the victim),” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina.

Uber, which temporarily suspended its self-driving program after the crash, on Wednesday called the video “disturbing and heartbreaking to watch.” 

“Our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” the company said. “Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”

Tempe police Chief Sylvia Moir said Uber would “likely not be at fault in this accident” once the police probe concludes. 

“It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how [Herzberg] came from the shadows right into the roadway,” Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Herzberg’s death has intensified concerns about self-driving vehicles and has prompted calls for more oversight in an industry in its infancy.

Transportation officials in Arizona ― where regulations over self-driving vehicles are more lax than other states ― said this week that they saw no immediate need for stricter rules.

“We believe we have enough in our laws right now to regulate automobiles,” Kevin Biesty, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, told Reuters. “There will be issues that the legislature will have to address in the future as these become more widespread.”