Federal investigators had their hands full trying to figure out how a self-driving Uber SUV malfunctioned and hit a pedestrian while she was walking her bicycle across an empty, albeit darkened road, in Arizona. The company responsible for making the vision sensor for the Uber car are just as baffled and reportedly do not understand what exactly went wrong.
The woman who died has since been named as Elaine Herzberg, who was 49-years-old.
Velodyne, the top supplier of LiDAR vision sensors for self-driving cars, could offer no immediate explanation as to what happened and why.
Every day nearly 100 people die in traffic accidents in the United States. However, what makes Herzberg's death notable is the fact that she is the first reported fatality of an autonomous vehicle. A laundry list of possible reasons is currently being looked at to explain what led to this unfortunate event. This includes possibly fault sensors, a software glitch, or problems with the computer installed on the vehicle. Although a video captured from the cameras on the Uber test vehicle released by the Tempe Police Department shows that a total system failure could be to blame.
The word LiDAR is an acronym for light, detection, and ranging. It is a technology used in autonomous vehicles that allows the detection of what's in front hundreds of feet away by projecting pulsed laser beams allowing the vehicle to recognize people, objects, animals, trees, and other vehicles, regardless of whether it's at night or in broad daylight. In addition to this, Uber's autonomous vehicles use multiple cameras to detect hard objects.
Judging from the released footage, the autonomous vehicle did not ‘see’ Herzberg, resulting in the vehicle going directly into the 49-year-old. The video also shows that the Uber safety driver, whose job is to take control of the system if something goes wrong, was not paying attention until just right before the car impacted Herzberg.