back to article Uber breaks self-driving car record: First robo-ride to kill a pedestrian

A woman has died after she was hit by one of Uber's autonomous cars in the US. The taxi app maker said it is cooperating with the cops in the wake of the death. According to police, Uber's vehicle was driving itself, although it had a human pilot behind the wheel, when it hit a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona. …

JRW

Re: @Yet Another Anonymous coward

Not sure the pedestrian always has the right of way or there would be no word jaywalking in American.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Clever car?

"It's already been speculated on at great length here as to peoples instinctive feeling that drivers will not be able to go from supervising a car (probably not very well, if at all) to taking over in an emergency."

There have been some experiments with drivers and car simulators which indicate that drivers do not perform well when taking over from an automated system unexpectedly. Among other things, they have an initial tendency to over-control. More experimentation needed.

This is very much like the issue with airline pilots and autopilots. The pilots aren't nearly as good and reliable as the autopilots, so letting the machine drive is safer... but that means that pilots don't get much practice actually flying the plane, rather than just inputting parameters into the autopilot.

Generally, the feeling seems to be that having autopilots is safer than not having them, despite the pilot tendency to screw up when given control, as has been demonstrated by a number of airliner total losses. If you want to read a really horrific case, look up the accident report from that French Airbus crash in the South Atlantic several years back. Three pilots, but when they did silly things, and the autopilot handed them control, one of them managed to fly the plane into the ocean, before the other two managed to sort out what he was doing.

Still, airliners are really safe, and on some flights now use autopilots for everything, including landings.

As is usually the case, there is no solution which is the optimal solution for all possible circumstances, and anyone who insists that a solution must be universally optimal is probably just trying to derail the solution, for whatever reason.

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Anonymous Coward

"And in the US, most cars are large."

In the US now, most cars sold are trucks or SUVs.

Add in number of vans, and the canonical sedan is fast becoming a rarity... and by comparison, short even ignoring the big SUVs and trucks, which are probably bigger than most European SUVs.

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

I do feel that calling him an orangutan is unfair to orangutans everywhere.

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@mevets;

I'm pretty sure that is how the speed limit is applied and intended in the UK, it would be covered by either 'driving without due care and attention' or 'driving without due care and consideration for other road users'.

I was taught that you must drive according to road and traffic conditions so the limit is only the maximum when conditions allow.

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Re: Turkey was this way.... not sure it it still is

I lived in NYC 20 years (moved to CA two years ago) and I can tell you the cabs know their **** will be pushed in if they hit somebody - its not those guys I had an issue with.

It was the wankers in nice cars that would try to bust through the crosswalk when the pedestrian sign says WALK. Those bastards would try to barge past, though the true NYCers dared the mongrels to try it, whereby the car owner's **** would also be pushed in.

Amusingly the last time I saw a cab in an accident in NYC (non-injury is why it is amusing) was when a courier bicyclist blew through a red light and plowed into the side of a yellow cab, getting a bent front wheel for his effort.

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

> If with perfect reflexes +perfect brakes I can stop from 30mph in 6 car lengths, then the kid is safe if they step out 6 cars ahead of me but not 4. So speed limit in school zones is 20mph = 4 car lengths. But what if they step out 2 cars ahead of me?

That's not how physics works.

d=(v^2)/(2*μ*g)

v is your velocity

μ is your coefficient of friction

g is 9.8ish here on earth

In your example, the only variable is v. So if it takes 6 car lengths under some condition to stop from 30, then

Assuming a 5m car length and otherwise just doing si unit conversions

μ=(13.4^2)/(2*9.8*(6*5))=0.305

Plugging those back in for the 20mph case

d=(8.9^2)/(2*0.305*9.8) = 13.2m

That's a pinch over 2.5 car lengths. Not 4. So you would still hit, but at a *much* slower speed. Maybe they'd even survive.

But if people undertake an activity that requires them to assess the safe speed for a certain visibility distance, like we driving say, they owe it to society to get a basic understanding about how speed and conditions affect stopping distances.

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Re: @Yet Another Anonymous coward

"Everywhere in the US, pedestrians have the right of way.

Everywhere.

Even if they are not in a crosswalk."

Citation needed? Counter example (Vermont Statutes Annotated):

23 VSA 1052

(a) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

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Anonymous Coward

That was my impression of New York City, at least where the taxis were concerned.

I believe one almost killed Winston Churchill back in the 30s. Although apparently Mr Churchill was checking the traffic to his right before stepping in to the road.

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Re: Turkey was this way.... not sure it it still is

Probably Turkish cab drives then? From what I've seen, the cab drivers are all immigrants from other countries. It's been a few years since I was there, but back then, I had great cab drivers and the drivers from hell and for the most part, they were all immigrants.

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"UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m, if a small child runs out into the road 1m in front of my car then it may be my responsibility to avoid them but the laws of physics disagree."

It was your responsibility to see them at the side of the road, or to see that you couldn't guarantee that there was no-one there, and adjust your speed accordingly.

Thus changing the 23m stopping distance into something much more reasonable, and starting at a speed which is far less likely to kill said small child if you still fail to avoid the collision.

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Pedantic

Being a bit pedantic here, but the braking distance of a car is not reduced at all by having motors, as the limit is already defined by the tyre/road interaction, assuming both road and suspension are in good condition.

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Re: Clever car?

I would never feel safe being NEAR one!

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Re: How good is the cars anticipation?

may see, for example, a small child careening down a driveway

Good point. You would expect a human to be aware small humans are more likely to behave erratically and move more erratically and focus more attention on them as an unpredictable or harder to predict hazard than other moving objects and unmoving hazards, at least up until the point they no longer have the time to intersect with the vehicle from their current location.

Basically driver would pay special attention to a childs movement as a potential hazard for a different span and level of focus than a potential adult hazard.

Would an AI or trained system be able to understand or achieve the same?

Doubt it.

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Re: "Clever car?" and aircraft autopilot

I understand your point, but I think there is a very large difference between aircraft autopilot and driving in traffic.

How often do you imagine an aircraft has to evade an object 10 meters ahead? In flight, how often is following distance to another aircraft less than 35 meters? How often does an aircraft need to merge into a stream of other aircraft, or avoid pedestrians? How often does the pilot need to negotiate a banking turn while maintaining +- 1 meter tolerances to avoid a fatal collision with oncoming aircraft?

For perspective, the FAA mandates 1000 vertical feet clearance between aircraft, or 3 miles horizontal clearance.

And how often is highway traffic controlled via radio instructions from a central traffic control tower?

My personal feeling is that driving a car is a very different kettle of eels from piloting an aircraft. (As per the Pythons, a hovercraft full of eels is another matter.)

I work with industrial automation. Millisecond control loops are common. Very fast responses. Very accurate control, in the right circs. (But watch the oscillation, mate, 'cos your actuators may not be that fast. Integrator windup.) However, the challenge lies in programming for those rare events, unexpected perturbations, and unanticipated failure conditions.

A container ship on the open sea may take 6 kilometers and 20 minutes to turn through 90 degrees, but the driver of a Honda Civic has no such latitude when the motorcycle in front of him skids out. (If a porpoise skids out in front of a container ship... well, sorry, Flipper.) An airliner traveling at 500 km/hr is in desperate peril if it comes within 50 meters of anything of substantial mass, but that's following distance on the motorway at 110 km/hr. In plain words, drivers of automobiles face much more tightly constrained and unpredictable conditions.

Again, my personal opinion, as a programmer of rather simpleminded and -- erm -- often inelegant industrial automation routines: programmers of self-driving automobiles face a challenge probably two orders of magnitude greater than programmers of aviation or nautical autopilot devices.

It needs a lot of proving. AI is nice too, but when human lives are at stake, it too needs a lot of proving.

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Anonymous Coward

From an updated news story: "Under Arizona law, pedestrians are obligated to give vehicles the right of way when crossing outside of a crosswalk."

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Re: bike or not

"Could we at least give her the dignity of a name?"

Is it REALLY necessary to attach a name to the victim? In the US at least, it's considered very bad form (not to mention an invasion of privacy) to prematurely identify victims. At the very least, time needs to be allowed to inform next of kin.

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Re: "the self driving car has got itself into a position"

"The question is, how does an AI handle no-win situations?"

I used to call it the "Guerillas in the Village" problem, from the Book of Questions, but it's now more succinctly termed the Trolley Problem.

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Re: Pedantic

but the braking distance of a car is not reduced at all by having motors, as the limit is already defined by the tyre/road interaction

Is that necessarily true ? Why do supercars have huge actively cooled carbon fibre discs?

I was thinking that if a Tesla can do 0-60 in <3s with the torque of the motors then assuming the battery can absorb electricity at the same rate it should be able to actively brake at the same rate ( a little better since aerodynamics are working for you)

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Are there countries where it's legal to run down pedestrians* on a normal road? There may be mitigation, but in civilised countries, it's the driver's responsibility to not drive into pedestrians (and many other things).

*If it helps, think of small children irresponsible parents and legal loopholes.

Fixed that for you, because you are only looking at the green grass and disregarding other problems. First, law is not your parent. Parents are not excused for letting or leaving kids on their own on the road. Second, there are actual people who jump in front of cars to get hit just to abuse this type of loopholes to get money.

So, yes there are civilised countries where you do not get punished if it is the pedestrians' fault for the accident.

Also in countries with overall higher intelligent, people tense to put their personal responsibility in front of any legal responsibility, meaning they actually avoid jaywalking when seeing a fast car approaching. It's because when they or kids die, it's dead regardless of what happens afterward.

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Re: How good is the cars anticipation?

With all these comments about small children, I want to know who all these parents are that (A) fail to teach their kids basic road safety; and (B) allow their kids anywhere remotely near a road without holding their hands until they're old enough to have learned?

I'm frankly pretty fed up with the calls to wrap the whole world in cotton wool because some parents are too stupid to actually parent.

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Re: @Yet Another Anonymous coward

>"Everywhere in the US, pedestrians have the right of way.

> Everywhere. Even if they are not in a crosswalk."

>>Citation needed? Counter example (Vermont Statutes Annotated)...

+1

There are many ignoramuses in the US who assume because "they do it this way in my state" that it must be the same in every other state. That is often not true. Only a small minority of US states give pedestrians the right-of-way outside a crosswalk. A US state-by-state overview is at:

http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/pedestrian-crossing-50-state-summary.aspx

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

If with perfect reflexes +perfect brakes I can stop from 30mph in 6 car lengths, then the kid is safe if they step out 6 cars ahead of me but not 4. So speed limit in school zones is 20mph = 4 car lengths.

At 20mph rather than 30mph, some collisions become avoidable, but of at least equal benefit is the greater survivability of unavoidable ones.

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Re: Pedantic

Why do supercars have huge actively cooled carbon fibre discs?

Because brakes convert kinetic energy to heat. A heavier vehicle, one braking from higher speeds (especially this), or braking more often needs to be designed to dissipate greater power in its brakes to prevent them overheating.

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

Yeah, the calculations are nice - but do not take into account the fixed reaction time. I guess... half marks?

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"If the self driving car has got itself into a position where such a choice has to be made, then the programmer / manufacturer has failed and someone probably ought to go to jail."

Not necessarily. The situation could be thrust upon them outside their control (a "Crap Happens" moment), like a tree suddenly falling onto the road. That's why the Trolley Problem exists: because Crap Happens. You can't account for Crap Happens moments because they can happen even when standing still, meaning the only alternative is to not do anything.

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

"Few will be fatally injured at 10."

The biggest risk for a small child isn't impact but getting caught under and dragged, which can be fatal at any speed.

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Dear Sir,

How do you, uhm, recruit people whose job title will be "accident enhancement manager" and whose job will be to randomly run into the road at night wearing dark cloths?

Seriously: Who defines what comprehensive means for a test center like that?

Regards,

Guus

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Unhappy

"AIUI Both Google and Tesla have run machine driven car programmes."

My point was they managed to field vehicles with a zero fatality count.

Ubers standards of safety up to their standards of driver vetting.

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Jan 0>*If it helps, think of small children.

To paraphrase Bill Hicks: At what age are people taken off your love list?

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Yes. Its legal to run down pedestrians on a normal road, if they clearly were suicidally negligent.

I've even been to a court where the driver was acquitted, as I was witness to the accident.

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Anonymous Coward

Absolutely.

Darwin in action.

I was taught NEVER to run after a ball in the road.

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Re: Pedantic

> Is that necessarily true ? Why do supercars have huge actively cooled carbon fibre discs?

Ah, the thing your are missing is the second corner. Even regular stock brakes can do an emergency stop from any speed your car can travel. The issue is when you want to do the same thing again 30 seconds later at the next corner. And again. And again. You cannot do that with stock brakes

Your braking limit is the maximum deceleration at each tyre before it loses traction. That depends primarily on the road surface and the contact patch of the tyre. That is why wide profile tyres and racing slicks improve stopping times (in the dry). You do also need to take into account that under heavy braking, your car's centre of gravity will move forward (blame Newton), so you have higher traction on the front tyres but lower on the rear. Modern ABS braking systems continuously monitor each wheel speed (plus steering angle) to make sure this each brake is doing the most that it can possibly do beneath this limit to wash off the speed. There is some serious boffinary in these systems.

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@AC

Don't be absurd. No one is "okay with" people dying in accidents.

what people are saying is there are (plenty) of instances where the accident cannot be avoided, and we don't know this wasn't one of them. You only look daft trying to prove a point by stretching an argument to such an illogical conclusion.

If the unfortunate person involved stepped out just a meter or two in front of the car, then there's not much most human drivers could have done, nor would the software do much better. Obviously that might not be the case too, but no one is taking the position you're suggesting.

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Re: Clever car?

No that clever, why the hell was an AI car driving at 38 in a 35 zone? That is totally and utterly inexcusable. I don't care that it is "only 3mph over", the whole point of autonomous cars is exactly so that this sort of thing cannot happen. That in itself indicates that the software is of poor quality. Why should we trust any other function if it is incapable of doing something as simple as not exceeding the speed limit. This also brings in the other point people have commented on. The speed limit is the maximum and speed should be adjusted to suit the conditions or situation.

It appears to have failed significantly on this.

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What a stupid comment!

Of course there is nowhere wher it is legal, but, depending on circumstances, there are many countries where a driver can be held not to be at fault for running over a pedestrian.

Not being at fault (and therefore receiving no penalty) is NOT THE SAME as 'legal'.....

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Re: bike or not

How many people are killed every day by human drivers???

16 in the USA (and rising)

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2018/02/28/pedestrian-fatalities/376802002/

"Although reasons for the recent rise have not been scientifically determined, experts suspect that smartphones and marijuana use are key factors in the deadly trend."

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Re: Could we at least give her the dignity of a name?

Early reports suppressed her name because her next of kin had not yet been informed. This is so people don't find out about the death of loved ones from a news report. They get told by a human in a more sympathetic way. Maybe it took longer to identify her next of kin because she was homeless.

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

In a UK school zone (around pupil arrival / exit times ) you will probably be doing less than walking space as the road is chocker with polluting parked Chelsea tractors of parents driving their offspring to the school gates.

I used to live near a school - you would go nowhere near that road at peak pupil times as you would be gridlocked

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

The biggest risk for a small child isn't impact but getting caught under and dragged, which can be fatal at any speed.

Hence the universal switch to massive SUVs and pickup trucks outside schools that a small child can walk under. They are just thinking of the children

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Re: YAAC offered, "UK official stopping distance at 30mph is 23m"

> "Most children will survive an impact at 20 miles an hour. Few will be fatally injured at 10."

Nonsense, it doesn't matter how fast you're going. The art is all in getting a good hit when reversing back over them.

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Your position is absurd. As others have pointed out; if I am driving down a street and see kids playing near the road I, as an adult, keep an eye on them, slow down, and prepare for them to do something stupid. They are, after all, children. I have no idea if an autonomous car can or would do the same. If they cannot, then they are not ready for real world driving. Although, from reading your post, you may not be either.

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Re: Turkey was this way.... not sure it it still is

That is one of the extra benefits of the taxi license system; careless drivers/owners can lose their license and hence their livelihoods. They are rude; but, they try hard as hell to avoid actual accidents that can cost them money in more ways than one.

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So was I. That doesn't mean a small kid who wasn't taught that, or who forgot it the way kids forget most things at times is fair game. By the time you get a drivers license you are supposed to be a responsible adult, act like it.

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