Uber Driverless Car Kills Pedestrian. Are We Ready For Autonomous Vehicles?

This day was always coming.  Human drivers have been hitting pedestrians with cars for decades.  When we started down the road of driverless cars, there was bound to be an accident involving an autonomous car and a pedestrian.

Tragically, an Uber driverless vehicle in Arizona struck a pedestrian and killed her.  There aren’t a ton of details about the circumstances:

A woman in Tempe, Ariz., has died after being hit by a self-driving car operated by Uber, in what appears to be the first known death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle on a public road.

The Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode with a human safety driver at the wheel when it struck the woman, who was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, the Tempe police said in a statement. The episode happened on Sunday around 10 p.m. The woman was not publicly identified.

The woman was outside the crosswalk, according to the article.  Was she running?  Was it dark?  Did she have on dark clothing?  I’m sure I’m not the only one asking questions like this.

Are We Ready For This?

I’ve been seeing the relentless march towards driverless cars since I was a kid.  Back then, it was Jetsons cartoons.  Remember those?  OK, maybe not you young folks.  Then, it was Back to the Future.  Now, we have actual driverless cars.  If I’m being completely honest, it spooks me a bit. Maybe that’s the dad in me.

It’s easy to say “we’re not ready”. But, when will we be ready?  Again, easy to say when a driverless car is 100% perfect, will never hurt someone.  Is it good enough if driverless cars are safer than ones operated by humans?

Does a death change the calculus?  Surely, driverless cars are no less safe today than they were a few days ago?

The Final Two Pennies

My “day job” involves emerging technology.  We’re constantly evaluating new ideas from smart folks that want to start companies.  I make an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show each year to keep an eye on trends.  Autonomous cars have been increasing their presence at CES on an annual basis.  Does that mean we’re ready?

I’m very conflicted on this topic.  The use of driverless car technology isn’t really a choice just constrained to one individual or company.  The pedestrian in Arizona didn’t consent to having driverless vehicles on her neighborhood roads.  Do crosswalks and jaywalking become impactful issues in a driverless car world?

The march of technology doesn’t often slow down for dissenters.  There is a lot of money pouring into this sort of autonomous technology.  These decisions are being made at a governmental level around the country.  I’m really curious to hear where you stand on issues like this.

What do you think about autonomous vehicles on our roads?  Would you get into an Uber without a driver?

The post Uber Driverless Car Kills Pedestrian. Are We Ready For Autonomous Vehicles? was published first on Pizza in Motion

28 Comments

  1. Waymo is light years ahead of the competition. They reached level 4 autonomy in late 2017 and have “driven” 5Million+ miles, which is more driving than any person could ever drive in their lifetime. Nothing will be perfect, but AV’s are and will be much safer than any human driver mainly because AV’s won’t get distracted by work, kids, cell phones, radio, etc.
    Waymo will be launching their AV ride hailing service in late 2018 in the Phoenix area and I can’t wait to sign up!!!

  2. Someday our children’s children will ask us, “is it true gramdpa, that people used to drive cars themselves?” You’ll tell them that really happened. And they’ll wonder, “didn’t people get into accidents all the time that way?” And indeed you’ll tell them that they did, and people died, every day.

  3. Unless we know that the autonomous mechanism “caused” the crash, most of the argument here is rather premature.

    1. Naoyuki, I think that’s part of the problem with these sorts of developing technologies. It will be hard to tell whether a human could have prevented this crash unless there’s some video evidence.

    2. The Tempe police have already said it had nothing to do with the accident. Completely unavoidable.A homeless woman in a median jumped in front of a car doing 50.

  4. So you’re asking whether we should get rid of dangerous things. Well, asking that same question, should we get rid of all cars, since over a million people die in car crashes every year, not even including pedestrians like this. Guns are obviously out, which will upset a lot of people and delight others. Or we try to ascertain exactly what happened. As someone who has driven for a few decades, I’ve had my share of close calls, as have lots of drivers. I’ve also known someone who had a woman suicide by jumping in front of his car, which left him all kinds of broken up. So maybe we should just gather some facts before rushing to judgement here. Then at least we can have an informed opinion.
    As to your question on whether I’d ride a driverless vehicle, the answer is yes.

  5. I saw this “news” on my iphone news feed today as well. The first thing I thought was “oh for it to be top news the the uber car had to have malfunctioned and ran a light or something.” Well I don’t think that is true. I think the lady ran into the middle of the road and got hit, and would have most likely been hit by a car with a real driver who wasn’t really quick to react. Sensationalized news at its finest.

    1. Albert, I do hope more information is forthcoming. I think of how many times I don’t use crosswalks in my traveling life. I don’t think I’d be more at risk in a situation with autonomous cars, but I honestly have no idea. I’m really curious to learn more.

      1. Do you jaywalk without checking for oncoming traffic? I jaywalk sometimes, but I look before I step off the curb.

        It sounds like she just stepped off in front of the car, and either didn’t look, or was committing suicide by car. Perhaps there was something more involved and we will find out in the coming days. Perhaps it was nothing more than coincidence that it was an AV. Right now, that is what I’m assuming. If that is the case, this was a non-news event, sadly to say.

        1. Jim, I don’t jaywalk without looking. The info that’s come out in the aftermath still doesn’t really spell out how preventable this was. If the safety driver had been watching at least we’d have seen that reaction time.

  6. Outside the crosswalk = fair game.

    No, but seriously folks… If automated driving results in 99% fewer accidents, what about the 1%? Collateral damage? Maybe a fund should be set up by those reaping the profits/savings for the victims’ families. Hate to put a price on a life, but it’s better than “Oh well, it was an accident.”

    1. Marvin, would that 1% have been preventable with a human driver? If so, then maybe you need a fund. But, if that accident would have happened with a human behind the wheel as well, that’s a different issue for me. That being said, really appreciate your opinion here. I’m still planning on walking outside the crosswalks. I’ll just walk faster. 😉

  7. Based on info above, what was the human safety driver doing? I’d guess the driver didn’t see the pedestrian either. The biggest problem I would have with driverless cars is the other human driven cars that are older and not technologically linked/visible to the newer vehicles on the road. At some point, all cars on the road and even all roads will have the necessary equipment to be “seen.” But that could take decades. In the meantime, you’ll have the 20 year old cars driving alongside you, potentionally invisible.

  8. What was the human safety driver doing? I would like to see the footage of the interior cameras. He/She was likely attending to information on the various computer screens, texting on their phone, eating a sandwich, maybe just daydreaming out the side window. I doubt they had both hands on the steering wheel, foot on the break, and their full attention to the field of driving (although I may be completely wrong). Or, perhaps they are not allowed to have their foot on the break or hands on the steering wheel. I don’t know what Uber and/or the NTSB requires this person to do. I doubt that the accident was caused by a lack of input from the senors. As I understand it, these test vehicles are packed with an over abundance of sensors that make it next to impossible for any type of object to be overlooked or missed, regardless of size, shape, color, temperature, speed, etc. So, what I would like to have revealed to the public is the ‘Trolly Problem’ decision tree algorithm that this particular car was using. Somewhere, in some room, perhaps even in a foreign country like India or China, a decision was made by a group of people that set in motion how this vehicle was to act under this circumstance. What was their logic, and why? This car only did what it had been ‘born’ to do when its ICs, sensor packs, and code were cooked up in a remote lab.

    1. That video is now available if you Google it. You will see that he had his head down prior to contact. Like so many today, not paying attention.

    2. Driver had his head down prior to impact. On the other hand, my mother always taught me to look both ways before crossing a street, crosswalk or not. Human error on both sides, if you ask me.

  9. Autonomous cars are always tested in Arizona and California. They’ll will never work in areas where Lane Dividing Lines and Crosswalks are covered in ice and snow much of the winter.

  10. 40,000 people are killed in car accidents in the US every year. If even 30,000 of those lives would be saved by self-driving cars ( a conservative estimate), that’s a huge argument to get them up and running.

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