Technology & Science

Uber won't confirm if software caused self-driving car to kill pedestrian

The Information reports that sensors detected pedestrian, but software decided against reacting

Posted: May 08, 2018
Last Updated: May 08, 2018

This image made from video shows an exterior view moments before an Uber SUV hits a woman in Tempe, Ariz. Video of the deadly self-driving vehicle crash in suburban Phoenix shows the pedestrian walking from a darkened area onto a street just moments before the crash. (Tempe Police Department via AP)

Uber Technologies Inc on Monday said it has hired a former U.S. regulator to advise the company on safety, but would not confirm a technology website's report that a software flaw was responsible for a fatal accident involving one of its self-driving cars in March.

The Information reported that Uber has determined the likely cause of the fatal collision in March was a problem with the 
software that decides how a self-driving car should react to objects it detects. The outlet said the car's sensors detected a pedestrian but the software decided it did not need to react right away. Uber declined to comment on the report.

A 49-year-old woman was killed on March 18 after an Uber self-driving sports utility vehicle hit her while she was 
walking across a street. The incident led the ride-share company to suspend testing of autonomous vehicles. Arizona's governor also ordered a halt to Uber's testing.


"We can't comment on the specifics of the incident," the company said, citing an ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

In this Dec. 13, 2016 file photo, Uber's autonomous car heads out for a test drive in San Francisco. The Information reported that Uber has determined the likely cause of the fatal collision in March was a problem with the software that decides how a self-driving car should react to objects it detects. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

The company said it was looking at its self-driving program.

"We have initiated a top-to-bottom safety review of our self-driving vehicles program, and we have brought on former 
NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture," Uber said. "Our review is looking at everything from the safety of our system to our training processes for vehicle operators, and we hope to have more to say soon."

In a video of the crash released by police, the vehicle appeared not to brake before it struck the woman.

The video shows a human backup driver in the SUV looking down until seconds before the crash. The driver looked up and appears startled during the last moment of the clip. (Tempe Police Department via AP)

The NTSB is expected to issue a preliminary report on the Arizona Uber crash in the coming weeks.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also investigating the incident and declined to comment.

Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said in April that Uber still believes in prospects for autonomous transport. 
"Autonomous (vehicles) at maturity will be safer," he said at a Washington event.


Hart was chairman of the NTSB when it opened a probe into a fatal Tesla crash involving a driver using the system's 
Autopilot system.

Hart said in 2016 that self-driving cars will not be perfect.

"There will be fatal crashes, that's for sure," Hart said, but added that will not derail the move toward driverless cars. 
"This train has already left the station." 

Investigators examine the SUV. The fatality prompted Uber to suspend all road-testing of such autos in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)