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Two weeks ago, a driverless Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona. This grim event marks a troubling milestone, the first human victim of a robot-controlled car.
Police reports indicated the victim was walking a bike across the street, outside a crosswalk in the evening at 10:00 PM. The Uber was reportedly driving at 40 miles per hour in an autonomous mode, however an operator was in the driver’s seat. The Uber never slowed down and the pedestrian did not appear impaired.
Authorities released the dash-cam footage on Wednesday March 21, showing the impact to the pedestrian and the video of the human driver who was behind the wheel mostly looking down and not at the road in the seconds before the incident. Fair warning, the footage is disturbing. See the videos by clicking this link.[i]
Both of the driver’s hands were not hovering above the steering wheel, which is what most backup drivers are instructed to do because it allows them to take control of the car quickly in the case of an emergency.[ii] Still, questions remain about why the technology did not sense/detect the pedestrian in the roadway?
Several sources state that the cause of the crash was Uber’s decision to design the driverless Volvo XC90 with less LiDAR technology than its Ford Focus, predecessor. Numerous ex-employees have revealed that Uber slashed the number of LiDAR units per vehicle from 7 to 1 in 2016, when the switch from Ford Fusion units to Volvo SUVs was made.[iii]
LiDAR, which stands for “Light Detection and Ranging”, consists of a cone or puck-shaped device that projects lasers which bounce off objects to create a high-resolution map of the environment in real time. LiDAR is used to create fast, accurate 3D scans of landscapes, buildings, cultural heritage sites and foliage.[iv]
Lidar technology sits between cameras and radar technology and it can detect both distance and objects, and can make out the shape of those objects,” explained Richard Wallace, the director of the Transportation Systems Analysis group within the Center for Automotive Research. Removing LiDAR sensors from the front, back and sides and replacing them with a 360-degree sensor on the roof is more cost-effective for the manufacturer but results in a blind spot low to the ground all around the car. The NHTSA will review this blind spot issue before it releases a final report stating the cause of the crash.
Arizona State Governor, Doug Ducey, was originally a prime supporter of Uber moving its driverless vehicle testing operations to Arizona in fall of 2016, since Arizona does not require strict testing permits like California.[v]
After this tragedy, however, Governor Ducey has suspended all Uber driverless testing in the State of Arizona. In his letter to Uber, he describes his decision as one made in the “best interests of the people” and that “Arizona will not tolerate any less than unequivocal commitment to public safety.” [vi]
On March 29, 2018, Uber reached a settlement with part of the family of victim, Elaine Herzberg, who was only 49 years of age at the time she was killed. The settlement amount is undisclosed and few details have been released by both parties. It has been mentioned that other members of the family have hired very competent counsel. We’ll see how this shakes out in weeks to come.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a self-driving vehicle, you may have a potential claim for damages against the manufacturer. The Ammons Law Firm and its team have the legal resources and experience to assist you. Call (713) 523-1606.