back to article Uber wasn't to blame for robo-ride crash – or was it? Witness said car tried to 'beat the lights'

A police report appears to support the claim that Uber was not to blame for a recent crash of its self-driving car in Tempe, Arizona. But the incident raises serious questions about what rules the startup's engineers are putting into the car's software. The report – made available Wednesday for anyone who is able to …

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  1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    Go

    Well, if Uber's cars are programmed in a manner consistant with the rest of Uber's philosophy

    Then Uber cars are programed as if they are in "Death Race 2000".

    1. BillG Silver badge

      Re: Well, if Uber's cars are programmed in a manner consistant with the rest of Uber's philosophy

      The woman who got hit should get Samuel T. Cogley to defend her.

      1. lockeptrv

        Re: Well, if Uber's cars are programmed in a manner consistant with the rest of Uber's philosophy

        My impression was that she hit the Uber car in the side with enough force to push the Uber onto it's side. In any case, it was her responsibility to make sure the intersection was clear before entering it. Make this out to be Uber's fault? That's just P.C. in my book.

  2. Snowy
    Facepalm

    Maybe just a bad teacher

    If they train experts system (AI) using reading taken from people driving in the beat the lights manner then it will try to beat the light because that is how it has been teached it should drive. Using expert systems (AI) is all well and good but you have to remember to teach it using good driving habits rather than bad driving habits.

  3. mildy bemused

    Remarkably advanced AI

    The car gets into an accident and blames the other driver. I think it passed the Turing test.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remarkably advanced AI

      But, wait! There's more! Get ready to test my new invention; fake traffic light projections onto self-driving vehicles with inexpensive LCD mini-projector, a smartphone, and a live crab. Patent Pending. We're still working out what the crab is for, but you'd be surprised, it does not function without one for the nonce.

      1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Remarkably advanced AI

        Crabs? Come on man, this is El'Reg we don't want no crabs here, we want sharks with freaking laser beams.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    side on impact

    The Uber car was knocked onto its side by the impact! Despite what witnesses might have stated, it's extremely likely that at the moment of impact the Uber cars speed was a lot lot less than that of the other car. It's very very hard for a slow moving car to knock a fast moving one onto its side.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: side on impact

      It's very very hard for a slow moving car to knock a fast moving one onto its side.

      Other way around ?

      A stationary car can roll another. If the oncoming car turned across it, then it's (relatively) low bonnet would be first into the path of the Uber car. The Uber car could then "drive up" the bonnet like a ramp and do what in the film/stunt business as a pipe roll.

      On the other hand, drive into a stationary or slow moving car "side in" and it's very hard to roll that car over.

      1. Grease Monkey

        Re: side on impact

        So clearly you never saw the episode of mythbusters where they tried to use the bonnet of one car as a ramp for another. That myth was busted IIRC.

        But in all seriousness it is very difficult to predict when a car will roll. It's often surprising which vehicles pass and which fail the elk test. One thing you can be pretty sure of is that the Volvo, being a Volvo, will have passed the elk test. As such it should be pretty damned hard to roll.

        The photographs of the aftermath don't make it clear how the car was rolled, but visible damage to both cars does not speak of a high speed impact.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: side on impact

          So clearly you never saw the episode of mythbusters where they tried to use the bonnet of one car as a ramp for another. That myth was busted IIRC.

          That's only because they didn't use the older models of the Ford Sierra and BWM 323

          :)

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: side on impact

            "That's only because they didn't use the older models of the Ford Sierra and BWM 323"

            Dunno about the BMW, but the Sierra used Cortina mechanicals and that pointy nose was all plastic which mashed flat and sprayed shit all over the road when hit.

        2. Keith Langmead

          Re: side on impact

          "So clearly you never saw the episode of mythbusters where they tried to use the bonnet of one car as a ramp for another. That myth was busted IIRC."

          Not sure you can use Mythbusters as a reliable proof of whether something can be done. They once "proved" that robin hooding an arrow in archery (eg shooting one into the back of another) couldn't be done, yet even as an average archer I did it (I still have the two arrows stuck together on my wall), and when visiting the local archery shop with its own range (which the staff regularly used when not serving) they had a bin full of the things. At best they simply prove THEY couldn't do something after a few goes in certain circumstances.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: side on impact

        "The Uber car could then "drive up" the bonnet like a ramp"

        I had an office by an intersection that saw its fair share of this kind of crash (mostly caused by straight-through vehicles running reds and hitting turning vehicles on arrows).

        This kind of scenario _never_ happened (ie: in no case did the oncoming car ride up over the nose of the turning one, or vice versa), but in one case the driver of the turning vehicle saw the crash coming and tried to avoid it. Instead of braking hard she hit the gas and ended up accelerating hard into the side of the straight-through vehicle, which ended up on its roof about 20 yards further on.

        One of the things I learned from working there was that crash witnesses are highly unreliable. Most aren't paying attention and only start properly looking _after_ the noise happens, then assume the rest. Statements given to the police seldom tallied and CCTV footage (which is why the police would be in my office) usually showed something completely different to their claims.

    2. david 12 Bronze badge

      Re: side on impact

      The Uber car bounced off a traffic light / street light, /THEN/ rolled. and hit two other cars.

      My guess: it rolled because it mounted the kerb.

      Uber was overtaking on the inside. Stationary traffic in the middle lanes of the 6 lane road, uber in the inside lane, doing 38 in 40mph zone through a yellow light.. Uber was nudged on to the Right kerb by car making a Left Hand turn. Continued on, mounted the kerp, hit a pole, spun and flipped, hitting two other cars.

      (remember, driving on Right in USA)

      Observation (1). No sensible driver would do 38/40 through a yellow light inside of stationary traffic.

      (2) Any sensible driver would have expected [Left Hand Turn] vehicles to be waiting for the light to change to complete their turn. They always do that.

      (3) Any sensible driver would realise that the [Left Hand Turn] cars would be threading their way through and hidden by the stationary traffic, which is why you don't do full speed on the inside lane through a yellow light.

      4)Uber radar and AI failed to detect [Left Hand Turn] traffic.

      So two problems: driving AI took a bad risk. Detection AI failed.

      Technically [Left Hand Turn] 'failed to give way'.

      Practically, if uber drives like this, uber will have accidents like this.

      1. ratfox Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: side on impact

        How can you drive so fast, while turning left at an intersection, that the freaking Volvo you hit rolls over!? Was the woman driving a tank?

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: side on impact

          "How can you drive so fast, while turning left at an intersection, that the freaking Volvo you hit rolls over!? Was the woman driving a tank?"

          You can be doing zero, if the Volvo hits you at the right speed and angle to career off and hit something else and flip. Since the other person was turning left at an intersection, they won't have been going very fast, let's be honest. And 38 at a blind intersection is insane.

          1. The First Dave

            Re: side on impact

            I would really like to know if the Uber software is aware of Blue Lights? If this had been an emergency vehicle turning across, would the Uber have given way as it should?

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Autonomous or not?

    This is assuming the Uber vehicle was driving fully autonomously... only the logs would tell if the "safety" driver decided to goose the accelerator.

    1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

      Re: Autonomous or not?

      The logs will just show that there was a compulsory update at that time with no option for the user to say "Not now MS I'm in the middle of a busy junction"

  6. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Two sets of traffic lights are needed

    One for humans (visual), the type we are all used to.

    The other (electronic) is for robot cars. All intersections have some kind of electronic signal which signals to robot cars that the traffic light is red, even though it is green. If the speed profile of the car is deemed safe, and a green is likely to be encountered at that speed profile when the car hits the junction then the light is cleared for the car to pass through. The speed profile is monitored throughout the approach and is triggered accordingly when it is assured that the overall process is under control.

    1. Blofeld's Cat
      Stop

      Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

      I like the idea of providing non-visual information for the robot car, but I think you would be opening a new can of worms if you gave different signals to the car. In the example you give, neither the "safety driver" nor any non-automatic following vehicles, would expect the robot car to brake for a green signal.

      It would perhaps be better, (and simpler from the traffic signal's point of view), to tell robot cars approaching the junction which signals were currently displaying green, and the timings of any upcoming changes. e.g. "now: E to W green, W to E green. in 29s : E to W green, E to N green ...".

      That way the car would be able to decide how to handle the junction, without needing to detect the physical traffic lights.

      1. Sven Coenye

        Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

        One could combine something like a racetrack transponder (essentially an indentifying RFID) in the car with speed detecting loops under the pavement linked to the traffic controller. It should then be possible to pass information to that specific car about its chances of making through the intersection, as well as communicating the exact distance to the light to the AI.

      2. Grease Monkey

        Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

        And who should pay for all these electronic signals? Every light controlled junction in the world? That would cost billions and the people who should pay world be the manufacturers of autonomous cars, and therefore the buyers. The public purse shouldn't pay, why should the public purse subsidise this enterprise?

        However these cars need to deal with the roads the way they are, the roads should not be changed to adapt to these cars.

        1. Sven Coenye

          Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

          If these things do take hold, it will be no different than any other infrastructure project. Where are the flaggers once required to walk in front of motorized vehicles? Who paid to pave the roads and build the current traffic infrastructure when the world moved away from horses and buggies? Is there a tax on the blind to equip intersections with auditory signals and warning tiles?

          1. hellsatan

            Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

            When all cars are fitted with a device that broadcasts locally 'here i am, this is how fast i am, this is what direction i am going in, my driver has just put the on the indicators/brakes/stomped the accelerator', something i expect to be relatively cheap, and could be used as a driver assist for ALL cars... That is the point i would expect autonomous cars to never be at fault in a RTA. When all autonomous cars feed each other this data, and they are predominant on the road, they'll be driving 2 feet apart and you wont need traffic lights...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

              So that's why Elon Musk is desparate to build a neural lace; it's so us cyclists can interface with the infrastructure required to make self-driving cars work properly.

              And, as a thought experiment, the self-driving car has to be fully autonomous and safe in the event of a complete failure of the traffic signals, or has to be able to detect this failure and pull over until a human driver takes over or the failure is resolved.

            2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

              Re: Accelerating from rest: Resolving Latency using Batching

              When traffic lights turn to green, there is a delay before each successive vehicle in the queue can accelerate from rest. This is inefficient. With auto-driven cars that are in touch with one another electronically it would be interesting to investigate the possibility that vehicles "batch" their intentions together, all those doing so during the green phase of the lights that can make it through on that green phase can be bound together electronically and accelerate in unison through the intersection.

        2. BrownishMonstr

          Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

          If the public purse were to pay for it I think there would be an incentive for there to be more autonomous cars on the road.

    2. MOV r0,r0

      Re: Two sets of traffic lights are needed

      Hey, maybe we could have them follow each other in a kind of, I don't know, erm - train! Then the one at the front could have a real driver, let's call them the, erm, train driver!

      If you're going to rework city infrastructure at public expense to cater for transport, do it properly and put in a decent mass transit system. This ticks not just the 'cheaper' box but also the 'safer' and 'less polluting' ones.

      If Uber want something different they can lease the space to install and maintain their own equipment, city by city.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probably doesn't help that US intersections are batshit insane.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Curious what you think is "batshit insane" about US intersections. Sure in some cities like Boston where the streets go in all sorts of directions they can be daunting, but if it is a standard 4 way intersection with traffic lights, what is the issue?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Your traffic lights operate on dumb timers thus guaranteeing congestion, they're bloody well optional anyway and you can get multiple lanes attempting to turn at the same time and not necessarily in the same direction.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You want to go to Athens or Istanbul. Human drivers just make it up.

          Fun to watch.

          1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

            > You want to go to Athens or Istanbul. Human drivers just make it up.

            Not tired Athens, been to Istanbul lots of times, they are beginners when it comes to creative road use compared with Bangalore.

      2. Captain DaFt

        "but if it is a standard 4 way intersection with traffic lights, what is the issue?"

        Good heaven's man, have you not noticed? They all drive on the wrong side of the road! ☺

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge

          but if it is a standard 4 way intersection with traffic lights, what is the issue?

          Come to Europe, we don't really have many road junctions like that because of the aforementioned batshitinsanery of them. Far too confusing and slows down traffic flows.

          We have roundabouts instead.

      3. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

        "Curious what you think is "batshit insane" about US intersections"

        Well, four-way stop is a reasonable thing, but I've seen a (very small) number of four-way yield intersections on American roads. And right turn on red is a classic, especially as it isn't universal. In New York (the state), it is permitted except where prohibited by a "No Turn On Red" sign; In New York (the city), it is prohibited except where permitted by a "Right Turn On Red" sign.

        And there was the set of traffic lights I saw one time near the Capitol building in Albany, NY, with side-by-side lights.

        And other gems, like intersections governed by flashing red in one direction ( = STOP sign ) and flashing yellow in the other ( = YIELD / Give Way sign ).

        But they don't have anything like the Magic Roundabout in Swindon.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        One word:

        roundabout.

        1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: One word: Roundabout

          Ah now you're talking about things going full circle...

          I remember the days when the Polish War Memorial junction was a roundabout.

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Re: One word: Roundabout

            Where I live we've been introducing roundabouts here and there to avoid four way controlled intersections. Those of us who have been to the UK and successfully navigated them (it is harder than you think when you aren't used to them, and driving on the wrong side of the road to boot, so we apologize for slowing down unduly when approaching them on occasion) know what to do, but a lot of people are lost. Especially those from out of town.

            Don't underestimate how difficult it is to deal with something you aren't used to. People who grew up where there are roundabouts understood implicitly how to drive them before they ever got behind the wheel, simply by being in the car when others did. There's a lot more thinking required to navigate them than a four way with lights. You just do what the lights tell you, easy peasy. Yeah, it isn't always the most efficient, but assuming you do like most do around here and have two seconds of all red to avoid problems from people who chase the last nanosecond of yellow, they are probably safer in the US than roundabouts. Maybe things would be different if we had roundabouts our whole lives, but there are very few places in the US where that's the case (and they still have problems with visitors)

            One thing that I think has helped with the yellow light chasers is that most of the walk/don't walk signs in intersections have a countdown timer. When the clock reaches 0, the light goes yellow. So you can tell a block away whether you will be able to make the light or not. It acts as sort of a pre-yellow warning so you don't see very many cases of someone racing through while it is in the process of turning red.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: One word: Roundabout

              Interestingly the UK has been removing many of its busier roundabouts because traffic light controlled junctions are way more efficient...

              ...IF you have some actual logic to the controls, rather than having each junction on an independent, dumb cycling timer.

        2. 404 Silver badge

          Re: One word:

          They have one in Ellijay, Georgia, US and ever since I've encountered it, I've avoided the town completely when going that direction.

          I cannot compare this roundabout with anything else due to poor State of Georgia signage and Google Maps losing it's fucking mind when reaching that roundabout. Just nope.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing an item

    We're forgetting a major factor here: The human driver that turned left **Into oncoming traffic** without ensuring that traffic was clear. If the light was red, yellow, green, or pink, they seem to be the ones at fault, not the Uber. (weasel wording, because I haven't read the traffic report).

    The Uber car in this case:

    1) Was going under the speed limit.

    2) Did not disobey a semaphore

    3) Did not hit anything (it was the vehicle that got hit)

    Also note the Bloomberg article states "the light turned yellow as the Uber vehicle entered the intersection". It did not say: "The light turned yellow when the Uber was 1/2 a block away, at which point onlookers heard the roar of the engine as the crazed robocar raced to beat the light".

    Now: what if ALL cars in the intersection that day used Uber's self driving software? would the Honda have chosen to turn into oncoming traffic?

    1. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

      Re: Missing an item

      Wow, a downvote for the guy who tried to bring facts into the discussion.

      ...

      Says it all, I guess.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Missing an item

        @ Jeffrey Nonken:

        Wow, a downvote for the guy who tried to bring facts into the discussion.

        If it wasn't for the fact that you are a badge holder I'd be tempted to say "you're new here, aren't you?"

      2. MOV r0,r0

        Re: Missing an item

        Wow, a downvote for the guy who tried to bring facts into the discussion.

        Don't know about the others but my down-vote was for the 'ban all humans' stance.

      3. tony trolle

        Re: Missing an item

        maybe Trump supporters. lol

    2. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Missing an item

      One other thing to consider -- the unreliability of eyewitnesses.

      In this case, if the other cars traveling in the same direction as the Ubermobile slowed when the drivers saw the yellow light, then the witness who claimed that it "sped up to beat the light" may have simply been perceiving the relative differences in delta-V and, in the moment, attributed it to what s/he EXPECTED to see, rather than to what actually happened.

    3. streaky Silver badge

      Re: Missing an item

      Eyewitness accounts are wildly unreliable. I'd be happier with video evidence.

      FWIW attributing fault can be a complex issue with road traffic incidents, usually best left to insurers - those are the guys who will ultimately decide if Uber's cars are fit to be on the road.

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