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Thursday, 31 May 2018 22:03

Uber's Self-Driving Vehicles Rely on Humans to Brake in Emergencies

Written by Michaela Kwoka-Coleman, Auto Rental News
The report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that Uber does not enable the automatic braking feature while its test vehicles are under computer control to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” The report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that Uber does not enable the automatic braking feature while its test vehicles are under computer control to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” NTSB/Wikimedia

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A preliminary government report on the March fatal crash involving an Uber self-driving test vehicle and a pedestrian in Tempe, AZ, showed that the vehicle’s manufacturer-installed automatic emergency braking system was disabled at the time.

The report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that Uber does not enable the automatic braking feature while its test vehicles are under computer control to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.”  Additionally, the safety system is not designed to alert the vehicle’s operator.


The San Francisco-based technology company confirmed this finding.


The test vehicle involved in the incident, a modified 2017 Volvo XC90, was operating with its self-driving system in computer control mode and had a vehicle safety operator inside it when the accident occurred. While the Volvo was factory-equipped with a collision avoidance function, in addition to functions for detecting driver alertness and road sign information, all advanced driver assistance functions were disabled when it was put into computer control mode.


On the night of March 18, the vehicle and its safety operator were traveling at 43 mph. A pedestrian wearing dark clothes stepped into the roadway, about 360 feet south of the crosswalk. While the pedestrian was pushing a bicycle, it did not have any safety reflectors.


“As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path,” the report says, in part. “At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that emergency braking was needed to mitigate a collision.”


Data from the Volvo shows that the safety operator engaged with the steering wheel less than a second before impact and began braking less than a second after impact.


“The vehicle operator said in an NTSB interview that she had been monitoring the self-driving interface and that while her personal and business phones were in the vehicle, neither were in use until after the crash,” the report says.


Since the NTSB report is preliminary, it does not contain any probable cause for the accident.



After the initial accident, Uber indefinitely halted all self-driving vehicle testing across the country. On May 23, Uber revealed to its Arizona employees that it will be shuttering its autonomous vehicle test program in the state, following mounting public pressure.


In an email, an Uber executive told employees that the company will be focusing on testing vehicles in Pittsburg and San Francisco, but in a “much more limited way.”


Currently, Uber does not have the approval of the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test its autonomous cars in the state.


We thank Auto Rental News for reprint permission.