A fatal crash that occurred when an autonomous SUV operated by Uber struck and killed a pedestrian could have better been avoided if a human was in control of the vehicle, some experts believe.
Footage of the incident, which occurred on Sunday in Tempe, Arizona, and resulted in the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was released by the local police Wednesday. Experts have suggested that Uber’s self-driving technology should have been able to avoid the crash and failed to do so.
The video includes footage from a dashboard camera showing a view outside the car, as well as a view of the operator employed by Uber sitting behind the wheel of the vehicle and take over if the autonomous system does not work as intended. The driver can be seen looking away from the road and not attempting to gain control of the vehicle until right before the impact.
“Video makes everything in the light pattern brighter and everything out of the beam darker. A human eye sees it much clearer,” Sean Alexander of Crash Analysis and Reconstruction told Bloomberg .
Alexander theorized that a human driver could have successfully avoided the incident, assuming they were paying attention to the road. “During the time the vehicle should have been braking, the pedestrian would have had additional time and would have cleared without the vehicle actually having to stop,” Alexander said.
Other experts have also highlighted the incident as a failure of Uber’s self-driving technology. Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor at University of South Carolina School of Law, wrote that the incident will “test whether Uber is becoming a trustworthy company.”
On Twitter, Smith explained that the victim should have been detected by the autonomous vehicles’ sensors. The Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor uses light to measure distance between objects and the Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) sensor uses radio waves to detect objects and determine their range, angle, and movement.
Smith also suggested that a human driver may have avoided the crash. “I can see victim [about] 2 secs before crash, which is about the average reaction time for drivers,” he wrote. “Pedestrians often get all the blame for crashes because they’re no longer alive to defend themselves.”
Steven Shladover, a UC Berkeley research engineer with experience with automated systems, offered a similar assessment to Wired . “I think the sensors on the vehicles should have seen the pedestrian well in advance,” he said. “If she had been moving erratically, it would have been difficult for the systems to predict where this person was going,” but the video shows no such movement.
Sylvia Moir, the police chief in Tempe, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode.”
“The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” Uber said in a statement. “Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”