autonomous vehicles, Distracted Driving, LIDAR technology for autonomous vehicles, Self-Driving Cars, Uncategorized

Should Uber blame its driver for the first autonomous vehicle-caused fatal pedestrian incident or is the technology flawed?

A video published by police yesterday raises some serious questions about Uber’s driverless-car technology.

UBER_fatal_pedestrian_crash
Tempe police released the video of the UBER self-driving car at the time of the fatal pedestrian crash

This video, released by the Tempe, Arizona, Police Department, shows what happened moments before one of Uber’s autonomous cars killed a pedestrian. The driver was recorded by a camera inside the car, looking down for several seconds.  She looks up at the last moment to see someone walking into the car’s path.

Was #DistractedDriving to blame? Experts have long warned that partial autonomy lulls people into a false sense of security, causing them to become dangerously disengaged. Situational awareness (SA) in driving is compromised with distractions. SA means a driver is aware of his or her surroundings and comprehends the variables in situations that are constantly changing. It can take many seconds for a person to regain situational awareness if something goes wrong – not enough time to prevent a disaster from happening, such as the case of the Uber fatal pedestrian crash.

LIDAR—Light Detection and Ranging – is the technology utilized by autonomous vehicles to measure distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3-D representations of a target. Investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board are tasked with investigating the sensors aboard the Uber self-driving car that failed to spot the pedestrian, who was wheeling her bike across the road.

The scary thought about this incident is that companies rushing to commercialize vehicle automation are already testing experimental systems on public roads – at least 52 companies have permits to test out self-driving cars California alone. Uber has been testing autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto and the greater Phoenix area for months. Waymo has testing locations in Atlanta, Detroit and Austin. Arizona is also the home for multipe testing sites, including Chandler, Gilbert, Guadalupe, Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe. California testing sites include Carmel, Daly City, Half Moon Bay, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Merced, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Sunnyvale, Tiburon and Truckee. Lyft has a driverless pilot program in Boston and offered driverless rides around the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Cruise Automation driverless cars are on the road in California, Arizona, and Michigan. In 2015, Daimler’s Self Driving Truck became the world’s first licensed autonomous freightliner in Nevada.

Is self-driving vehicle technology moving too quickly for the public’s good? Post your comments.

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