By David Shepardson
Uber had disabled an emergency braking system in a self-driving vehicle that struck and killed a woman in Arizona in March even though the car had identified the need to apply the brakes, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report released on Thursday
The report into the first fatal crash caused by a self-driving vehicle also disclosed that the modified 2017 Volvo XC90’s radar systems observed the pedestrian six seconds before impact but “the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path.”
At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined emergency braking was needed. But Uber said, according to the NTSB, that automatic emergency braking maneuvers in the Volvo XC90 were disabled while the car was under computer control in order to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.”
The report gives new fuel to opponents in Congress who have stalled a bill designed to speed the deployment of self-driving cars on U.S. roads and puts a spotlight on the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is also investigating, does not test self-driving vehicles or certify them before they are deployed on U.S. roads.
Uber Technologies Inc, which voluntarily suspended testing after the crash in the city of Tempe, said on Wednesday it planned to end testing in Arizona and focus on limited testing in Pittsburgh and two cities in California.
Uber aims to resume its self-driving operations this summer, likely with smaller routes and fewer cars, the company said
The company did not directly comment on the NTSB findings but noted it recently named a former NTSB chairman, Christopher Hart, to advise on Uber’s safety culture.
“As their investigation continues, we’ve initiated our own safety review of our self-driving vehicles program,” the company said on Thursday, adding it planned to announce changes in the coming weeks.
All aspects of the self-driving system were operating normally at the time of the crash, and there were no faults or diagnostic messages, the NTSB said.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road when she was struck by the Uber vehicle traveling 39 miles per hour (63 kph).
A safety operator behind the wheel appeared to be looking down, and not at the road, moments before the crash, according to video from inside the car released by police. The operator told the NTSB she was not looking at a mobile phone but monitoring the vehicle’s self-driving systems.
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