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. …

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Or the kid was never in your sight until the very last instant when he pops out from a seemingly-too-narrow gap just two feet in front of you (possibly deaf so unable to hear your approach and blind due to position) with cars hemming you in on both sides. Even at 10kph you're still likely to hit and possibly drag the kid under. Heck, not even a computer would probably able to save the situation. As they say, sometimes Crap Happens.

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Re: @Yet Another Anonymous coward

Not true, though they often behave that way.

"Vehicles must yield the right of way to pedestrians at plainly marked crosswalks and at intersections where stop signs or flashing red signals are in place. Pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to vehicles when crossing outside of a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection." ncsl.org

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Clever car?

"Self-driving cars seem to be being touted as the be-all and end-all for the future. In which case, surely the beast should have had enough electronic know-how to realise what was happening and either brake or avoid?"

The car was self-driving, not psychic.

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Anonymous Coward

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

"You know, stopping is ideal, but slowing down and avoiding is an option. So you are saying if the kid jumps out 2 car lengths ahead, you wouldn't react and just run him/her down?"

If a child jumps out 2 car lengths ahead, there is no time to stop, or even slow down.

For a human being, the time to reach the kid and the time to see and recognize the situation are the same.

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Re: bike or not

The confusion was due to the fact the pedestrian was walking a bicycle, which was laden with shopping bags. I don't know if it is the case here, but this is one way homeless people move their stuff around.

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Re: "Clever car?" and aircraft autopilot

"programmers of self-driving automobiles face a challenge probably two orders of magnitude greater than programmers of aviation or nautical autopilot devices."

Agreed, completely. That's probably why we've had decent autopilots for 30 years or more, and are still refining and testing various AV technologies.

Also, besides complexity and proximity, the sensor situation is much more difficult in traffic.

On the other hand, our digital electronics is many orders of magnitude more capable, and we seem to be sorting out the algorithms, both directly, and as a result of progress in various other fields.

There will be some failures in software, even after we figure out how to do AV. We still get the occasional airplane falling out of the sky due to an implementation bug or unanticipated edge case that causes the software to choke... but overall software makes airplanes safer, and cars safer.

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Anonymous Coward

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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You are touting legalisms to the detriment of safe driving.

Safety experts are quite clear that as long as road and weather conditions permit, for a good driver and a vehicle in good condition, the safe speed is the one that meshes with the flow of traffic.

On a good road in good weather, this is almost invariably reasonably higher than the speed limit, and comfortably below the actual design speed of the road in question.

When all the other traffic is moving faster, a vehicle refusing to exceed the speed limit is an egregious safety hazard, unless that speed is justified by a compromised vehicle or driver - in which case it should be looking to get off the road.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Yet Another Anonymous coward

Pedestrians are un-American!

A proper American drives everywhere!

(like South-Africans did - remember "The Gods must be crazy")

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"if a small child runs out into the road 1m in front of my car then"

Then if you failed to observe the child on the footpath, etc, you need your license removing.

Short of being dropped from a 3 floor building onto the road in front of you, children _never_ "just appear" in front of cars.

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"If they do so when the physics precludes the vehicle stopping, then yes, absolutely."

Fuck you.

If a ball bounces onto the road, you KNOW a small child is likely to run out after it. I learned that by observation when I was ten years old (and at the same time I also learned it was a bad idea to run after balls if they went onto the road)

As such, slowing down IMMEDIATELY, is the logical course of action (which is what my mother did), rather than waiting for the child to appear (which is what the driver coming the other way did)

Failure to do so and then hitting the child at speed will get you a "careless driving causing injury" charge at the very least in most countries, if not vehicular manslaughter (The child survived, the driver lost his license for 2 years)

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

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

You'll be happy to know that NYC has been installing cameras specifically to nail drivers who barge their way through pedestrians on crossings and they've taken at least 100 taxi drivers off the road amongst others.

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Re: How good is the cars anticipation?

"Good point. You would expect a human to be aware "

That's all you need to say.

Humans are terrible at focussing on more than 2 hazards at a time. Most people develop tunnel vision and completely fail to notice the kids playing on the footpath UNTIL they step out onto the road, by which point it's far too late.

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Re: Pedantic

"Why do supercars have huge actively cooled carbon fibre discs?"

Because kinetic energy is proportional to the _square_ of velocity and you dissipate 4 times as much energy going from 200km/h to 100km/h as from 100km/h to 50km/h

If they weren't well cooled the brakes would stop being effective partway through slowing down from maximum speed (which used to happen in 1970s muscle cars and wasn't pleasant to experience)

Below 100km/h they make very little difference at all.

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" like a tree suddenly falling onto the road."

A competent driver will notice this happening some distance off. Most don't.

Drivers get tunnel vision. Trees don't suddenly appear on the road.

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

"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."

Which gives rise to the other problem in the UK.

Speed humps are installed to protect children walking to school from being run over by cars containing those being driven to school.

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Re: "Clever car?" and aircraft autopilot: and "makes cars safer"

Daniel, I suspect we agree very closely.

I do think there's a good chance that, as you write, software will -- eventually -- make cars as well as airplanes safer.

My only caveat is that, because street-level driving is so much more complex than aeronautical or nautical travel, street-level autopilot needs more proving-out.

I like automation. It rocks the industrial world I work in. But -- eh, well, you already know the but. Maturity. The algorithms must mature. In my rather humble opinion (IMRHO) auto-driving auto-mobiles have not matured yet.

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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.

Before this became common practice, there were the ambulance chasing press. Many people heard the doorbell ring, answered it, and some jackass would push a microphone into their face with a camera running and say something like: "Hi Mrs. XXX, we just came from an accident. How does feel to now be a widow?" Ok...maybe not quite that harsh but a lot of reporters were over the top shall we say.

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

It's not true in Turkey.

In a lot of countries the driver is fully responsible for ALL your medical costs and as those are very high they will try to ensure that if they hit you, that they kill you as this is much cheaper to pay off - to the point that many drivers will reverse back over someone they ran over to ensure that they finish them off.

In many "less developed" countries a driver who is silly enough to stop and try to help someone he's run over will be beaten to death by bystanders.

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Re: Pedantic

"Being a bit pedantic here, but the braking distance of a car is not reduced at all by having motors."

They will if you reverse them into generators, causing them to produce electromagnetic resistance. Diesel-electric locomotives use this as their primary brakes.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm

So row upon row of parked cars running parallel with the street obviously isn't an issue YOU have to contend with.

Children, pets balls etc can ALL "just appear".

Seems to me you don't HAVE a driving license or you drive solely on an airport runway.

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Anonymous Coward

"If they do so when the physics precludes the vehicle stopping, then yes, absolutely."

Fuck you.

If a ball bounces onto the road, you KNOW a small child is likely to run out after it

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What part of 'If they do so when the physics precludes the vehicle stopping' did you not understand?

Changing the warning time changes the physics.

Assuming a ball changes the warning time.

Changing the question changes the problem.

If you want me to answer a different question, then ask that question.

Don't complain when I give you the logical answer to the question that was asked.

I am not responsible for your failures of logic.

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Re: "Clever car?" and aircraft autopilot: and "makes cars safer"

"I like automation. It rocks the industrial world I work in. But -- eh, well, you already know the but. Maturity. The algorithms must mature. In my rather humble opinion (IMRHO) auto-driving auto-mobiles have not matured yet."

Agreed.

One of the catch-22s here is that at some point further improvement will require realistic real world driving.

... and that is not going to occur at the same time for all the projects, so forming general or arbitrary rules (politicians at work?) will be a bit less than ideal.

Not sure I have the answer for that one, unless we can base it on statistical accident experience, but unless you have a good way of weighting for circumstances, that can be a bit fraught, as well.

A whole new bunch of issues will arise when we try to run these vehicles at -10, in snowstorms, or icing conditions, or with gusty winter winds bringing occasional flying snow.

I keep reminding myself that there is a short term risk with new tech, for major long term gains that persist almost forever, past a certain point. How do you balance those things as well - the 'safety opportunity cost' of waiting for 'right now' improvements?

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

"Speed humps are installed to protect children walking to school from being run over by cars containing those being driven to school."

Even worse:

1. Speed bumps distract drivers from looking for hazards diverting them to watching for and dealing with bump after bump - taking attention and vision from other areas to a narrow focus while increasing task loading. As others have noted here and in many many accident reports (aircraft, diving, and maritime ones are often very complete and informative) task loading can be a major contributor to operator error.

2. The less you mitigate the effect of the bumps, the more incremental stress and damage on steering, braking, tires, and suspension components, gradually reducing the reliability and emergency capabilities of the vehicle. In most cases this won't cause an accident, but most trips don't result in one either. By the time you talk accident you are already way down in the tail of the probability distribution, and you don't need any more issues that will make things worse, or change a not-accident into an accident.

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Alert

AI moral dilemma:

Self driving car has to choose between

a) killing 1 pedestrian

b) not being part of the greater Uber

Which does it choose?

b

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its CEO took to Twitter to offer his commiserations.

Classy. Gonna send an e-card to the funeral too?

In a just world he'll soon be taken to a courtroom offering many many millions of dollars in compensation too, not that that can ever compensate for the loss of someone's life. This was always going to be a question of when rather than if. And given that the when has happened rather quickly in the limited time and with the limiited numbers of cars since they were allowed to be used on public roads, it really should be halted rather quickly before the excuses and apologists for it cost more lives. A good long think should then be had about the wisdom of continuing this way, with considerations of potentisal profit making and srategic advantage for private companies put well at the bottom of the list of priorities. I for one do not wish to take part in this beta test every time I go out.

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Re: its CEO took to Twitter to offer his commiserations.

I have no horse in this race, but if they didn't make an immediate comment via Twitter, everyone would be getting mad at them for ignoring it.

It's what they do NOW that matters.

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flags

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Maybe they should have had people walking in front of them waving flags. No idea if it would have helped but at least they would have been going slower.

Who to blame now is the question ?

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Re: flags

We don't know yet. If we step out of this sad event and consider the hypothetical: how could both a autonomous car *and* the human 'backup' fail to spot and stop for a pedestrian, there appear to be two major scenarios:

a, The human backup driver was distracted because he'd effectively been a passive passenger for X number of incident-free miles.

b, the pedestrian moved at such speed prior to the collision that the car was incapable of stopping.

Now, writing as a fallible driver and wary pedestrian, it is the first scenario that interests me as one that could be addressed with engineering solutions.

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Re: flags

Or the Human driver could never react quickly enough to an error by the car? If the person was pushing a bicycle it could very easily be a similar accident to the Tesla "Autopilot" one. Where the sensors missed the obvious, as the object had gaps in it.

Perhaps the car never hit the pedestrian, but the bike they were pushing?

Similar accidents use to happen here in the UK with large trucks/trailers. So they both added signs on trucks to warn cyclists/pedestrians "don't go this close", and barriers/mirrors to protect the pedestrians/cyclist from being crushed.

Nearly anything will have a blind spot in it's search space.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: flags

I believe there are places where there are still laws on the books requiring a flagman to precede every horseless carriage.

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Trollface

Re: flags

Only if a woman is driving, not AI....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: flags

"a, The human backup driver was distracted because he'd effectively been a passive passenger for X number of incident-free miles."

Not necessarily distracted, but perhaps unready to instantaneously assume control.

There are a number of aspects to this.

1. A human driver controlling a vehicle does not have to decide to assume control... that's already done. This produces an extra evaluation and decision step to the process. Not only 'what is happening?' but also 'should I take over control, or let the systems currently trying to deal with the issue do so?',

2. Tests have shown that humans taking over control have initial problems actually steering or controlling a vehicle initially... their performance as drivers is significantly poorer than if they had been driving for a while. This may be an argument for leaving the driving to the computer in an emergency. That, and the fact that the computer effectively has 360 degree vision.

3. Humans stubbornly insist on learning from experience. After the first 250,000 km with no incidents, at some level they will tend to expect that to continue, and to treat an apparent problem as a mistake, not an actual problem. This may be related to the issue with baggage x-ray inspectors. After a million bags full of every imaginable safe thing, a bomb is likely to be interpreted by the brain as one of those familiar safe things that you have already seen 5,000 times.

None of these things are distraction, as such, but they will impair response time and response accuracy.

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Re: flags

"I believe there are places where there are still laws on the books requiring a flagman to precede every horseless carriage."

The one I like is the law against unmarried women skydiving on Sundays in Florida.

(From one of those books that are good to leave sat next to the loo)

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playing devils advocate here...

There's a large number of variables and we don't know all the facts. Whilst I don't advocate uber, in fact I rather detest them. But right now we need more information before we can judge who was to blame. Otherwise all we have is conjecture over this unfortunate incident.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: playing devils advocate here...

I would personally blame Uber (just because it's Uber). Also, it's Microsoft's fault (because, crucially, W10), and Google... well, goes without saying, they're EVIL.

And don't start me on Apples, politicians, and Russians, they're all to blame!

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Re: playing devils advocate here...

And the oil companies, don't forget the oil companies

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Re: playing devils advocate here...

One of the big arguments for automated vehicles is that they are supposed to be able to react faster and with better choices than wetware.

If this was a bicyclist and I'm in a car coming up on them, I am cautions about watching to see if they are going to stay along side the curb or follow on straight along in the continuing lane. This is even more important if I am going to turn right into the turn lane and cross their path. AI is going to have to advance an incredible amount to take in the subtle clues about what a pedestrian, bicyclist or motorbike rider may do. That can even apply to what another motorist in a manually driven car could do based on how they are driving. It's much better to stay out of an accident rather than being found in the right afterwards.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: playing devils advocate here...

And the oil companies, don't forget the oil companies

And Brexit, of course.

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First glance my emotions wants to blame uber, but I need more data. Iv'e seen bikes cut across a major road( ie not crossing at the intersection) I've seen bikes cut people off an run red lights.

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If you are not prepared to deal with that then get off the road

Being on the road requires a minimum set of abilities, and for good reason.

Besides, the victim is a woman, it is highly unlikely that the situation you describe has any resemblance to reality in this particular case.

In this case I'd bet that the uber was cutting corners, not the cyclist.

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Re: If you are not prepared to deal with that then get off the road

In this case I'd bet that the uber was cutting corners, not the cyclist.

If the AI was "trained" by a lot of drivers I see then that is a distinct possibility. At the same time a lot of cyclists aren't entirely blameless for cutting corners.

When I am on the road (exclusively 4 wheels now, but occasionally 2 motorised wheels in an earlier life) I am ever concious when approaching junctions that a cornering driver may well turn up in "my" bit of road because they were never taught to drive properly beyond passing the test or because they either don't know the risk of cutting corners or simply don't care.

Either is possible but they are a bloody hazard regardless.

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The 'killer' question

I used to cycle in London. My wife hated it, and to be honest I was the one always on guard.

Then along came Boris bikes and a whole generation of idiot cyclists without helmets scared most London drivers to the point where they are paranoid about ensuring they don't mow down a two-wheeler. Now I like cycling in London, as most drivers take excessive care about cyclists (NB I observe the highway code, and get annoyed at all the idiots that ignore traffic lights etc...) it is generally other cyclists that behave like idiots.

It has always concerned me that as long as an autonomous vehicle shares the same space as anything on two wheels (from a spotty adolescent caning a 250cc motorbike then emergency braking in front of a 'convoy' of autonomous vehicles on the motorway to a drunk exec deciding that a Boris bike is the best way to get to the last train out of waterloo at 11:30) let alone two feet, we will always have problems.

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Re: The 'killer' question

It is one of genuine objections to autonomous vehicles in a European city (rather than LA or Arizona).

If the car has to brake everytime a child wanders near the kerb edge of the pavement, or if a delivery vehicle is illegally parked and it refuses to cross a solid white line to get round them - then the whole of London is going to be gridlocked by autonomous vehicles obeying the rules.

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Anonymous Coward

"First glance my emotions wants to blame uber, but I need more data. Iv'e seen bikes cut across a major road( ie not crossing at the intersection) I've seen bikes cut people off an run red lights."

Here, in a major city, I see more bikes out at night without lights than with them. I have yet to complete a long trip on a major road at night without counting more unlit bikes than lit ones, even allowing a light at either end to count as 'lit'. Not once.

Similarly, in areas with one way streets, at night, I have yet to see any street with more than two bicycles on it where the majority of the bikes are not going the wrong way. I cannot explain why.

And it is quite rare for bikes to stop at stop signs and fairly often they run red lights.

Given that a lot of riders wear pavement/building/tree coloured clothing, all of this is quite risky.

I came very close to killing a cyclist one rainy night just after turning into a one way street, only to encounter an unlit bike with no reflectors going the wrong way down the *middle* of the street... but if I had, it would have counted against my insurance.

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Facepalm

Since when was a cyclsit a "pedestrian"?

And since when did a monitoring meatbag escape responsibility for the actions of the bot they are monitoring?

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Re: Since when was a cyclsit a "pedestrian"?

"And since when did a monitoring meatbag escape responsibility for the actions of the bot they are monitoring?"

I see people everyday who seem to think they can alternate between acting as a pedestrian (while still riding their bike) and acting as a vehicle )on the road) to suit their personal whims and whether they feel the need to stop or not at junctions, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings of various types. Fortunately, those suicide cyclists are not the majority.

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Anonymous Coward

It is UBER

so why aren't they already being sued for a few BEELLIONS?

I hope they lose and go out of business. Anyone driving for them must know that it won't last and that their slavedrivers want to replace you with their infallable AI system.

If it was a choice between using a Uber or walking then I'll choose the latter.

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Re: It is UBER

So if your destination was across town in the middle of a downpour/blizzard, you would take death from pneumonia/hypothermia to an Uber?

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Re: It is UBER

@Charles 9

No.

they'd use one of the many alternatives. I've managed perfectly well without ever using uber, so have more people than have ever used them.

I can't imagine a situation in which one would be left with *only* uber as a transport choice. It's a fictional scenario that doesn't really help you make your point.

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