A new report by The Information is causing yet more trouble for Uber that has seen a slew of negative media coverage since one of its autonomous cars fatally hit Elaine Herzberg last March. The tech outlet is revealing that, according to two people briefed on the matter, the deadly crash was caused by a system set to ignore objects on the road.
Dangerously low settings
Even more daunting, the outlet stated that the system’s settings were set so low that even the pedestrian's bicycle did not trigger an immediate response. The functionality of this newly-revealed system is to allow the vehicle to ignore what Uber calls “false positives.”
These are obstacles in the road that actually pose no threat and need to be dismissed such as a plastic bag. However, in this case, the system was programmed with way too much leniency.
“The car’s sensors detected the pedestrian, who was crossing the street with a bicycle, but Uber’s software decided it didn’t need to react right away. That’s a result of how the software was tuned,” wrote The Information.
These results come from Uber’s investigation into the crash. Another investigation conducted with the National Transportation Safety Board is also expected to be released with more details.
“We’re actively cooperating with the NTSB in their investigation. Out of respect for that process and the trust we’ve built with NTSB, we can’t comment on the specifics of the incident. In the meantime, 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. 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,” said an Uber spokeswoman.
A bad month
The last month has not been a good one for Uber. In a span of few days at the end of March, the company saw testing for autonomous driving suspended, its co-founder Lior Ron leave, and chipmaker Nvidia distance itself.
This is partially due to reports that Uber scaled back the numbers of sensors in its cars and rumours that the company suffered problems with its self-driving cars even before the accident. The company has also been plagued by claims that the head of the self-driving division put security second.
These claims are all in stark contrast to initial police reports stating the company was likely not at fault in the accident. The incident has also put a dent in the self-driving industry as a whole.
Toyota put its self-driving division on hold last month. A spokesperson for the company said in an email to Bloomberg: “Because we feel the incident may have an emotional effect on our test drivers, we have decided to temporarily pause our Chauffeur mode testing on public roads.”