Last night a woman was struck by an autonomous Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona


Food for thought: Should the legal liability rules and penalties in event of accident differ depending on whether there’s a person driving the car vs a company’s software and hardware ?


I think you might have two different issues. Product liability for the faulty car and criminal liability for the sleepy driver. Fair or not, that $15 an hour driver was supposed to be in charge of the ship. I’d be thinking long and hard before I’d get behind the wheel. Could be wrong though. No such thing as double jeopardy any more.


I don’t personally expect the person overseeing the car’s operation to react quickly to someone walking out in front of the car, but I do expect the person overseeing the car’s operation to be looking for hazards and take control before it happens by recognizing the potential for such a thing to happen.

Yes, a driver in an autonomous car could likely be so disengaged in the car’s operation that he isn’t able to react and take over in a split second, but he could stay engaged in looking ahead, think to himself, “I better slow down because there is a blind corner or obstacle in my view ahead,” and take control of the vehicle to slow it down, like you or I would probably do if we were driving a car in an urban environment without thinking about it.

This idea that the operator might have been expected to take over and stop the car in a split second seems like a rather unlikely expectation considering how impossible it would be. His recognizing the car was going too fast for potential hazards in its environment seems a lot more likely the expectation of someone who is overseeing an autonomous vehicle.


That’s where it gets dicey, though. Let’s say the car had been well designed and was working properly. Approaching the scene in the video (assuming the woman was not there), you and I would have slowed down because we can’t see what’s in that dark place. But the sensors on the car can see into the darkness thanks to lasers and radar, and it knows that nothing’s there, so it would keep driving. You take over and slow down.

Same scenario, but the woman is there, if you take over, how do you know that the car would have reacted appropriately?


I foresee someone soon offering bikers a safety device that will emit a signal to autonomous cars. It would be similar to the deer warning whistles in function and reliability. I can’t wait to get one.


The thing is that, even if he took over operation of the car and nothing happened (because the woman wasn’t there), there would still have been data to analyze that might lead to better programming. In that scenario, the engineers might be inclined to see it as human error, but I hope they would ask themselves what conditions led the driver to take over the operation of the car and integrate that into the programming.

If the operator took over operation of the car and slowed down, he might have been able to swerve or stop in time, or at least the injuries might not have been fatal, and since this system was not yet deemed safe for use without supervision, he should have done that.

I’ve been there. I hit a homeless man on a bicycle when he pulled out in front of me. I saw him swerving on his bike, so I slowed down, and when he pulled out in front of me, I was able to stop in time to bend the rear wheel of his bicycle, but allow him to escape with only minor injuries, a few scrapes at most.


Yeah, I don’t disagree. But at some point you have to find out if the car can handle itself by letting it handle itself. Obviously, Uber is not anywhere near that stage, but that stage will have to happen eventually.


This is one of the cons to those harsh cut off headlamps IMO. You don’t get the radiant edge pattern that allows you to see as much ahead of time that a traditional headlamp may have provided. It looked to me that any human driving down that road under those circumstances would have been hard pressed to see that person in time to do anything other than mouth “oh schmidt!”.

Some people have focused on inattentiveness of the driver. But recall, Uber went against industry norms where two people oversee these cars. One watches telemetry data and other status of the on board computers while the other is completely free to watch the road. Uber overburdened the one operator to do both. When you see him looking down, that isn’t likely a cell phone or inattentiveness, he’s doing the second half of the job to watch the autonomous computer screen for details on operation.

My perspective on the onboard videos was I wouldn’t have been doing much differently. 35-39 mph on multilane road at night. I’m not slowing down and leaning toward the windshield at every single dark spot in the extremely random case where someone is stupid enough to be walking across at that particular spot…


Here’s another nugget that’ll be presented at the trial: Uber went from 7 Lidar detectors on their previous autonomous cars to 1 on the Volvos, unlike other companies who use 5 or so:

"In scaling back to a single lidar on the Volvo, Uber introduced a blind zone around the perimeter of the SUV that cannot fully detect pedestrians, according to interviews with former employees and Raj Rajkumar, the head of Carnegie Mellon University’s transportation center who has been working on self-driving technology for over a decade.

The lidar system made by Velodyne - one of the top suppliers of sensors for self-driving vehicles - sees objects in a 360-degree circle around the car, but has a narrow vertical range that prevents it from detecting obstacles low to the ground, according to information on Velodyne’s website as well as former employees who operated the Uber SUVs."


I’ve looked at the video a few times now (very difficult to watch).

Based on what I saw (visual), the woman didn’t come into view until the 1 second before being hit. If I was driving and saw what was on the screen - I probably wouldn’t have had enough time to take my off of the gas.

HOWEVER…these systems are suppose to be equipped with radar thermal sensors.


Keep in mind that video cameras without an auto-knee function aren’t nearly as good at dynamic range as the human eye is. So it might look starkly black on video, but if you were seeing it in real life you’d probably see the dark area a lot better than the video makes you think.


Yeah, I did take that into account as best I could. A car and van I own have those lamps and they are starkly different than prior designs. I am constantly having to run with high beams on so I don’t get caught surprised by deer or even unexpected pedestrians walking along the road (rural, no shoulder to speak of). The illuminated area is sharply cut off. Light/No light. You’re absolutely right the human eye can see more detail than the camera.


Yeah hard to tell the real view from the film. The other thing is on a bike, there are those amber and white reflectors on the spokes that really are pretty bright when the head light hit them. They’ve been in use for the last 30-40 years and really you can see the reflectors from a long way off at night if you are at right angles to the bike.


fyi, a Tesla car had a very bad crash here in the San Jose area on March 25, currently unknown if the driver assistance was involved or not.


Looks like there was a pretty good fire. He’s having some financial problems lately and maybe close to insolvency plus it sounds like there may have been some shenanigans in quality control.


If I crashed a Tesla into something that did significant damage to the car, I would get out and get away from that car as fast as possible. There’s a reason they won’t ship lithium batteries by air.


Uber has reached a settlement with the family of the deceased woman. That was fast.


Lithium battery technology has changed significantly in jus the past 2-3 years.

Unfortunately there are MILLIONS of the older batteries still on the market and coming to market. It’ll be years before all are of this type.

As for Tesla…they too have made vast improvement in the past 2 years on their batteries (now that they make their own).

From above article -

"In conclusion, if a fire starts from inside a pod, it doesn’t propagate to the rest of the Powerpack. And if a fire starts outside the Powerpack, it won’t spread to other Powerpacks around it. Of course, there are also several safety features preventing those things from ever happening, but the NFPA’s tests were for worst case scenarios."


This has to be one of the quickest big stakes settlements ever. Uber had nothing to gain by taking any longer.


There is no way to know, and considering how the woman stepped in front of the car, I wouldn’t bet on it. We shouldn’t speculate on things we don’t know.