Self-driving vehicle struck and killed pedestrian

An Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

Early reports indicated that the pedestrian was crossing a roadway after dark, outside a crosswalk, and that Uber would probably be deemed not at fault in this incident.

But reviewing the crash video, multiple concerns arose. For one, Uber’s onboard driver — responsible for taking over in case of system problems — was looking down or sideways, hence unable to see the pedestrian. If her hands were on the steering wheel, ready to take over driving from the computer, that is not apparent from the video. Two, the pedestrian was making steady progress across the roadway. Three, some experts said a standard automatic emergency braking system, even on ordinary commercial vehicles, would have been able to detect the pedestrian and at least apply the brakes.

Velodyne, which makes the LIDAR sensors used on Uber’s autonomous cars, expressed surprise that the Uber vehicle hit the pedestrian. A Velodyne spokesperson explained in an email: “We are as baffled as anyone else. … Certainly, our Lidar is capable of clearly imaging Elaine and her bicycle in this situation.” Velodyne suggested that Uber’s software might be at fault, explaining that “[o]ur Lidar doesn’t make the decision to put on the brakes or get out of her way” and that Uber’s systems would need to make those decisions.