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Police Release Onboard Video of Pedestrian Death From Uber Volvo

Police in Tempe Arizona have release the onboard video from an autonomous Uber vehicle that collided with a pedestrian on Sunday evening.

Gary Grant By: Gary Grant March 22, 2018
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Police in Tempe Arizona have released the onboard video from an autonomous Uber vehicle that collided with a pedestrian on Sunday evening.

In the video, a number of issues arise that are counter to the report I filed here previously. In initial statements from the police, it was said that the pedestrian, now named as Elaine Herzberg was at fault and that neither Uber nor the “backup driver” would likely be found at fault.

In my initial report, I relayed the description that Herzberg “was pushing a bicycle loaded with shopping bags along the centre median before abruptly stepping into the live lane.”

Having now seen the video, the incident becomes much clearer. Herzberg was indeed pushing a bicycle and carrying shopping bags, at a walking pace. Rather than crossing at a nearby crosswalk, she was crossing the two lane road in an unlit section of road.

The 49 year old woman did appear suddenly in the area lit by the Volvo’s headlights.

The supposed abruptness of her appearance in the video has more to do with the light pattern projected by the headlamps and the slight curve in the road than it does an abrupt action by the victim.

Much of the allure of autonomous vehicles is the potential for technology to eliminate human error from the safety equation. In a situation like this, a relatively slow moving obstacle might be missed in the shadows by a human driver. The Lidar (laser) systems employed by an autonomous vehicle, in theory, are not hampered by low light.

In this case, the technology clearly has failed.

Because the technology is still very much in the testing phase, companies are required to ensure that a human is behind the wheel as a safety precaution.

In this case however, Uber’s safety driver, 44 year old Rafaela Vasquez, is not looking ahead in the moments leading up to the collision. Instead, Vasquez is looking down at something outside of the view of the camera. Could it have been her phone?

As I pointed out in my previous report, everyone connected to autonomy in any way, from automakers to lawyers, insurance companies and even journalists have been waiting to see where the chips would fall when the inevitable tragedy occurs.

It has occurred and while initial reports pinned the blame on the victim, it now looks like that blame will (and should) shift towards Uber, it’s technology teams and ultimately the distracted driver behind the wheel.

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