A month and a half ago, a pedestrian was tragically killed by one of Uber’s Volvo XC90-based autonomous test cars. Now, we’re getting a better idea of what went wrong on 18 March.
According to a new report in The Information, the prototype vehicle’s software did actually spot 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed the road in Tempe, Arizona, but decided not to act.
Citing “two people briefed about the matter,” the publication reports that Herzberg was identified as a ‘false positive’. It’s deliberately built in to the system to ignore objects like litter in the road, so it does not brake or take evasive action unnecessarily. So while Herzberg was indeed ‘spotted’, she was not correctly classified by the system, and as a result, the car carried on regardless. Subsequently released footage also revealed that the human ‘operator’ of the car was looking down at the time of the accident.
Uber has so far refused to comment, owing to the current National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the accident. The company suspended its testing programme immediately after the fatal incident in March.