August 2, 1968|
Mesa, Arizona, U.S.
|Died||March 18, 2018
Tempe, Arizona, U.S.
|Known for||Being the first pedestrian known to be killed by an autonomous vehicle|
The death of Elaine Herzberg (August 2, 1968 – March 18, 2018) was the first recorded case of a pedestrian being killed by an autonomous vehicle, following a collision that occurred at about 10 p.m. MST (UTC-7) on March 18, 2018. After the vehicle struck Herzberg, who was pushing a bicycle across a four-lane road in Tempe, Arizona, U.S., she was taken to the hospital, where she died of her injuries. The car, an Uber Volvo XC90 taxi, was operating in self-drive mode with a human safety backup driver sitting in the driving seat.
According to a preliminary police investigation, the car was traveling at 38 mph (61 km/h) in a 35 mph (56 km/h) zone, and did not attempt to brake. However The New York Times stated the speed limit was 45 mph (72 km/h) and Google Street View imagery from July 2017 shows a 45 MPH speed limit sign shortly before the accident location. Video released by the police on March 21 showed the safety driver was not watching the road moments before the vehicle struck Herzberg. Since the vehicle did not appear to slow or swerve, the backup human driver also did not intervene before the collision. The vehicle was operating in autonomous mode when it struck Herzberg.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a team of investigators to gather data from vehicle instruments, and to examine vehicle condition along with the actions taken by the safety driver.
|Vicinity of Mill Avenue (running north-south) and Curry/Washington (east-west) in Tempe, Arizona|
Herzberg was crossing Mill Avenue from west to east, approximately 400 feet (120 m) south of the intersection with Curry Road, outside the crosswalk. The Uber autonomous car and driver were travelling north on Mill. Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir stated the collision was "unavoidable" based on the initial police investigation, which included a review of the video captured by an onboard camera. Moir faulted Herzberg for crossing the road in an unsafe manner: "It is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available."
The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them. His [sic] first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision. [...] it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.
Tempe police released video on March 21 showing footage recorded by two onboard cameras: one forward-looking, and one capturing the safety driver's actions. The forward-facing video shows the autonomous car was traveling in the far right lane when it struck Herzberg. The driver-facing video shows the safety driver was looking down prior to the collision. After the video was released, journalist Carolyn Said noted the police explanation of Herzberg's path meant she had already crossed two lanes of traffic before she was struck by the autonomous vehicle. The Marquee Theatre and Tempe Town Lake are west of Mill Avenue, and pedestrians commonly cross mid-street without detouring north to the crosswalk at Curry. According to reporting by the Phoenix New Times, Mill Avenue contains what appears to be a brick-lined path in the median between the northbound and southbound lanes. However, posted signs prohibit pedestrians from using it, as it is strictly ornamental.
Michael Ramsey, an autonomous car expert with Gartner, characterized the video as showing "a complete failure of the system to recognize an obviously seen person who is visible for quite some distance in the frame. Uber has some serious explaining to do about why this person wasn’t seen and why the system didn’t engage."
James Arrowood, a lawyer specializing in driverless cars in Arizona, noted the software may have decided to proceed after assuming that Herzberg would yield the right of way. Arizona law (ARS 28-793) states that pedestrians crossing the street outside a crosswalk shall yield to cars. Per Arrowood, "The computer makes a decision. It says, 'Hey, there is this object moving 10 or 15 feet to left of me, do I move or not?' It (could be) programmed, I have a right of way, on the assumption that whatever is moving will yield the right of way."
As of March 2018[update], Uber autonomous vehicles were unable to meet a self-imposed goal of 13 mi (21 km) between manual interventions. For comparison, autonomous vehicles from Waymo were reaching 5,600 mi (9,000 km) and vehicles from Cruise Automation were exceeding 1,200 mi (1,900 km) between interventions.
Brad Templeton, who provided consulting for autonomous driving competitor Waymo, noted the car was equipped with advanced sensors, including radar and LiDAR, which would not have been affected by the darkness. Templeton stated "I know the [sensor] technology is better than that, so I do feel that it must be Uber’s failure." Arrowood also recognized potential sensor issues: "Really what we are going to ask is, at what point should or could those sensors recognize the movement off to the left. Presumably she was somewhere in the darkness."
In a press event conducted by Uber in Tempe in 2017, safety drivers touted the sensor technology, saying they were effective at anticipating jaywalkers, especially in the darkness, stopping the autonomous vehicles before the safety driver can even see pedestrians. However, manual intervention by the safety drivers was required to avoid a collision with another vehicle on at least one instance with a reporter from The Arizona Republic riding along.
Uber announced they would replace their Ford Fusion-based autonomous fleet with cars based on the Volvo XC90 in August 2016; the XC90s sold to Uber would be prepared to receive Uber's vehicle control hardware and software, but would not include any of Volvo's own advanced driver-assistance systems. Uber characterized the sensor suite attached to the Fusion as the "desktop" model, and the one attached to the XC90 as the "laptop", hoping to develop the "smartphone" soon. According to Uber, the suite for the XC90 was developed in approximately four months. The XC90 as modified by Uber included a single roof-mounted LiDAR sensor and 10 radar sensors, providing 360° coverage around the vehicle. In comparison, the Fusion had seven LiDAR sensors (including one mounted on the roof) and seven radar sensors. Velodyne, the supplier of Uber's LiDAR, stated the roof-mounted location of the single LiDAR sensor meant that sensor was unable to detect pedestrians within 3 m (9.8 ft) of the vehicle. Marta Hall, the president of Velodyne commented "If you’re going to avoid pedestrians, you’re going to need to have a side lidar to see those pedestrians and avoid them, especially at night." However, the augmented radar sensor suite would be able to detect obstacles in the LiDAR blind spot.
After the collision that killed Herzberg, Uber ceased testing autonomous vehicles in all four cities (Tempe, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Toronto) where it had deployed them. On March 26, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey sent a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, suspending Uber's autonomous car testing in the state. In the letter, Ducey stated "As governor, my top priority is public safety. Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona's approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona."
Prior to the fatal incident, Governor Ducey had encouraged Uber to enter the state. Ducey signed Executive Order 2015-09 on August 25, 2015, entitled "Self-Driving Vehicle Testing and Piloting in the State of Arizona; Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee", establishing a welcoming attitude to autonomous vehicle testing. According to Ducey's office, the committee, which consists of eight state employees appointed by the governor, has met twice since it was formed.
In December 2016, Ducey had released a statement welcoming Uber's autonomous cars: "Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads. While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses." Emails between Uber and the office of the governor showed that Ducey was informed autonomous vehicle testing would begin in August 2016, several months ahead of the official announcement welcoming Uber in December. On March 1, 2018, Ducey signed Executive Order (XO) 2018-04, outlining regulations for autonomous vehicles. Notably, XO 2018-04 requires the company testing autonomous cars to provide a written statement that "the fully autonomous vehicle will achieve a minimal risk condition" if a failure occurs.
Uber announced it would not renew its permit to test autonomous cars in California after the California Department of Motor Vehicles sent a letter to Uber telling the company that its permit would expire on March 31, and "any follow-up analysis or investigations from the recent crash in Arizona" would have to be addressed before the permit could be renewed.
Herzberg's daughter retained the law firm Bellah Perez. Uber and the husband and daughter of Elaine Herzberg quickly reached an undisclosed settlement on March 28 while local and federal authorities continued their investigation.
The incident caused some companies to temporarily cease road testing of autonomous vehicles. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang has stated "We don’t know that we would do anything different, but we should give ourselves time to see if we can learn from that incident."
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