Software error led to fatal crash with pedestrian, report says

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Federal investigators in March inspected the Uber vehicle that struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Photo credit: NTSB via Twitter

UPDATED: 5/7/18 3:29 pm ET – ads details

Uber Technologies Inc. determined the likely cause of the fatal collision between one of its self-driving vehicles and a pedestrian in Arizona in March was a problem with the software that decides how the car should react to objects it detects, according to a report on Monday from online news organization The Information

The outlet said the car’s sensors detected the pedestrian but the software decided it did not need to react right away.

“We can’t comment on the specifics of the incident,” the company said, citing an ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

In a video of the crash released by police, the vehicle appeared not to brake before it struck the woman.

The NTSB is expected to issue a preliminary report on the Arizona Uber crash in the coming weeks.

Uber, meanwhile, said it hired a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman to advise the company on its safety culture following the crash.

“We have initiated a top-to-bottom safety review of our self-driving vehicles program, and we have brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture,” Uber said Monday. “Our review is looking at everything from the safety of our system to our training processes for vehicle operators, and we hope to have more to say soon.”

A 49-year-old woman was killed on March 18 after being hit by an Uber self-driving vehicle while walking across a street in Phoenix, leading the company to suspend testing of autonomous vehicles. Arizona’s governor also ordered a halt to Uber’s testing. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating the incident.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in April the ride-sharing company still believes in the prospects for autonomous transport. “Autonomous (vehicles) at maturity will be safer,” he said at a Washington event.

Hart was chairman of the NTSB when it opened a probe into a fatal Tesla crash involving a driver using the system’s Autopilot system.

Hart said in 2016 that self-driving cars will not be perfect.

“There will be fatal crashes, that’s for sure,” Hart said, but added that will not derail the move toward driverless cars. “This train has already left the station.”

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