Uber’s Arizona accident once again puts self-driving cars in dock

By : |March 20, 2018 0

A self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, marking the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle and a potential blow to the technology expected to transform transportation.

In response Uber has suspended North American tests of its self-driving vehicles, which have been going on for months in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. The Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, though a driver was behind the wheel, Tempe police said in a statement.

In a big relief for Uber and the autonomous technology at large, the chief of the Tempe Police later told the San Francisco Chronicle that Uber is likely not responsible for the crash. “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” said chief Sylvia Moir.

Herzberg was “pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags,” according to the Chronicle‘s Carolyn Said, when she “abruptly walked from a center median into a lane of traffic.”

After viewing video captured by the Uber vehicle, Moir concluded that “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 she came from the shadows right into the roadway.”

While a separate investigation from the National Transportation Safety Board is still underway, Moir’s comments must be big breather for Uber.

Companies including Alphabet’s Waymo, General Motors, Uber and Baidu are investing billions of dollars to develop autonomous-vehicle technology pegging its potential to transform the auto industry, transportation in general and the way cities work. The fatality in Tempe could be a blow to this optimism and may slow testing, or delay its commercialization.

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