Uber Self-Driving Car 'Detected' Pedestrian Killed In Crash, But Decided It Didn't Need To Stop: Report

Self-driving Uber
Photo: Uber ATG

Uber has concluded the likely reason why one of its self-driving cars fatally struck a pedestrian earlier this year, according to tech outlet The Information. The car’s software recognized the victim, Elaine Herzberg, standing in the middle of the road, but decided it didn’t need to react right away, the outlet reported, citing two unnamed people briefed on the matter.

The reason, according to the publication, was how the car’s software was “tuned.”

Here’s more from The Information:

Like other autonomous vehicle systems, Uber’s software has the ability to ignore “false positives,” or objects in its path that wouldn’t actually be a problem for the vehicle, such as a plastic bag floating over a road. In this case, Uber executives believe the company’s system was tuned so that it reacted less to such objects. But the tuning went too far, and the car didn’t react fast enough, one of these people said.

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The other crucial issue has to do with the safety operator behind the wheel. Autonomous tech developers utilize minders like this to ensure someone’s ready to take the wheel in case the car fails to recognize an object in the road, but the driver was seen glancing down and away from the road in the moments before the crash.

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In response to The Information’s reporting, Uber issued a statement to the outlet that said:

We’re actively cooperating with the NTSB in their investigation. Out of respect for that process and the trust we’ve built with NTSB, we can’t comment on the specifics of the incident. In the meantime, 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. 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.

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Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has said the company remains committed to putting self-driving cars on the road.

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About the author

Ryan Felton

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk

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