Uber started testing “self-driving” cars back in September 2016 in Pittsburgh, PA. The project was called “ Roadrunner” to compete with the other self-driving companies like Google-owned “Waymo.”
Uber soon added Arizona Project “Pheonix” to their testing area about a year after. This area soon became the lead testing ground because of the favorable weather and environment conditions. Project Pheonix grew to over 150 self-driving cars and over 400 safety driver employees (two per car).
In October of 2017, though, they downsized from two safety employees to one to move towards a completely “driver-less” car. Their goal was to be ready by April 2018 to impress the new chief executive of Uber, Mr. Dara Khosrowshahi.
Self-driving Uber Accident Kills Arizona Woman
On March 18, one of their self-driving vehicles hit and kills a homeless Arizona woman who was walking her bike across a 4 lane street. She was crossing at an unmarked crosswalk when the radar failed to recognize her.
According to Uber, the emergency braking sensors had been disabled while the vehicle was in the self-driving mode. Uber’s explanation of disabling the emergency brake sensors was that they wanted to reduce unpredictable vehicle behavior.
The vehicle’s driving system didn’t determine it needed the emergency braking system until 1.3 seconds later.
Unfortunately, it was way too late to stop the SUV from hitting 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. An autopsy showed Herzberg had methamphetamine and marijuana in her system. The drugs made her oblivious to the car coming toward her.
You can watch the video moments before the crash here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2VNABWvCok. The police department edited the video to hide graphic sections.
The self-driving SUV with one safety driver was going 40 mph in a 45 mph zone and did not detect the woman or her bike until 6 seconds before impact. The vehicle is a 2017 Volvo XC90 with a LIDAR radar detecting system.
According to the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), everything was functioning correctly on the vehicle, and there were no diagnostic messages or faulty notes at the time of the crash.
Uber has discontinued the testing voluntarily during this investigation. They have obtained the help of former NTSB chairman Christopher Hart to advise them on safety. It may take up to a year for the NTSB to report its final findings.