Software Flaws in Driverless Car Led to Fatality

As we inch (centimetre) our way closer towards driverless cars, US investigators have identified fundamental flaws in the software of the driverless Uber that killed a pedestrian last year.

The fatal crash, which happened in Arizona in March 2018, has been attributed to the failure of the car to identify the victim as a pedestrian (who was crossing the street with her bicycle) and was unable to stop in time. While the vehicle had a total of six seconds between spotting the hazard and reacting before impact, the vehicle lost a whole second of reaction time while it tried to search for an alternative route to avoid the indecent and only realised 1.2 seconds before impact that a collision was imminent.  

The enquiry revelated that the Uber test vehicles were involved in a huge 37 crashes over the 18 months prior to the fatal incident. And it wasn’t only pedestrians that were the targets of the four wheeled missiles, 33 of those crashes happened to other vehicles. 

There are unfounded allegations by Arizona police that at the time of the accident, that the human backup driver was watching TV, not the road, and that Uber had disabled the automatic emergency brake feature at the time of the accident, which car manufacturer Volvo said would have prevented or lessened the impact of the crash. The reasons for why this was disabled remain unclear at present, other than a desire by Uber to advance the technology and avoid interferences of the test. 

The National Transportation Safety Board revelated on Tuesday that Ubers’ self-driving system was programmed with many flaws, and that unsurprisingly, there was a long way to go before they would become a regular fixture on our roads. Thank goodness. 

We’ve often wondered here at CCI how driverless cars would cope in cities such as London, where people step out in front of cars to cross the road all day long. It seems that for the time being, at least, we’re better off navigating young Kai in his souped up Corsa with go-faster strips on the road, than we are taking our chances with driverless vehicles.

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