Could Uber Self-Driving Death Have A
Long-Term Impact on Autonomous Cars?
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Uber has temporarily parked its self-driving
fleets following a deadly crash in Tempe, Arizona,
where one of the ride-hailing company’s
autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs struck
and killed a pedestrian. The fatal accident,
first reported by The New York Times, occurred
when the female pedestrian attempted
to cross a street with her bicycle while
outside a designated crosswalk.
The Uber vehicle — an XC90 fitted with
an array of self-driving sensors — had a
designated technician behind the wheel, in
case of emergencies, however at this point,
it remains unclear whether the car’s autonomous
drive system, or the safety technician,
had any time to react before the accident.
Uber released a statement expressing
condolences about the accident, while stating
the company would temporarily halt its
self-drive testing program in Tempe, along
with similar public-road-based programs in
Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. It’s
assumed these programs will be reinstated
following an investigation into the cause of
the crash in Arizona.
Toyota subsequently announced that it
too would temporarily halt its self-driving
car testing as a result of the incident. Meanwhile,
Hyundai, which has been slower
than competitors in introducing self-driving
technology to the market, expressed validation
in its more cautious approach when
speaking to Reuters. Yoon Sung-hoon, a
director at Hyundai Motor, said: “When we
evaluated other companies’ vehicles, they
had more relaxed safety standards,” adding
that Hyundai is taking more time than rivals
to develop autonomous technology to guarantee
safety. “No one knows under what situation
accidents will occur,” he added.
As the first fatal accident involving a
self-driving vehicle, it remains to be seen
how this will affect the long-term future
of autonomous technology. In addition to
the Tempe Police Department, the National
Transportation Safety Board said it is
launching an investigation - the outcome of
which could have a significant impact on the
autonomous vehicle movement. Car manufacturers
and tech companies are investing
millions of dollars into this formative technology,
causing many government agencies to
scramble when it comes to keeping up with
the rapid pace of development.
Some automakers have asked for special
permits and exemptions to test self-driving
cars on public roads. General Motors (GM)
recently petitioned the U.S. Department of
Transportation to allow the upcoming Cruise
AV to sidestep certain federal regulations.
These include mandates for safety features,
such as airbags and stability-control
systems, along with more routine items like
steering wheels, rearview mirrors and pedals.
The Cruise AV, which is based on the
Chevrolet Bolt EV, plans to do without the
latter three items.
GM is hardly alone in the race to bring
self-driving cars to reality. At the 2018 Geneva
International Motor Show, Volkswagen
unveiled the I.D. Vizzion, a completely
self-driving sedan that comes without pedals,
a steering wheel or any means to manually
drive the car. During the show’s media
preview, VW stated that the autonomous
tech within this futuristic concept could be
introduced by 2030.
Tech companies such as Google, via
self-driving research division Waymo, have
built fleets of hundreds of test vehicles covered
with self-driving radar, laser and camera
arrays. In fact, Waymo and Fiat Chrysler
Automobiles recently announced plans to
build thousands of Chrysler Pacifica minivans
fitted with self-driving hardware.
“With the world’s first fleet of fully self-driving
vehicles on the road, we’ve moved from
research and development to operations
and deployment,” said Waymo CEO John
Krafcik, at the time of the announcement.
These vehicles would not only be used on
public roads, they would also offer ride-hailing
services to the public in select cities.
Technology giants Apple are also in on
the action with Project Titan. Little is known
about the particulars of the company’s self
-drive fleet but latest figures obtained by the
Financial Times show that Apple has nearly
doubled the number of self-driving cars in
its California test fleet, with 45 vehicles currently
on the roads. .
These ambitious plans, along with the aggressive
timeframes, could be slowed down
if serious questions are raised about the
safety of self-driving vehicle deployment.
In the U.S., more than 40,000 people were
killed in traffic-related accidents last year. A
large majority of these were attributed to human
error, however; these included highly
avoidable factors such as texting while driving,
drunk driving and falling asleep.
While autonomous vehicles don’t suffer
from these same potential driving flaws, the
case for rushing them to market may now be
a lot more complicated.