Uber self-driving car involved in crash had no system to identify jaywalkers

New documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board shed light on the fatal crash in Arizona last year.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
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Uber promises its new system is smarter and would identify a jaywalking pedestrian.


A year and a half since the crash in Tempe, Arizona, that left a pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, dead and Uber in the spotlight over its self-driving car program, we're still learning more about why the wreck occurred and how investigators plan to shore up autonomous vehicle safety.

The latest comes from Bloomberg, which reported Tuesday on hundreds of new documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board. The safety body found Uber's self-driving car prototype did not feature any sort of system to identify pedestrians outside of a crosswalk. Translation: There's no way the Uber autonomous car could see jaywalkers. Herzberg was pushing her bicycle across the road.

Uber said in a statement, "We regret the March 2018 crash involving one of our self-driving vehicles that took Elaine Herzberg's life. In the wake of this tragedy, the team at Uber ATG has adopted critical program improvements to further prioritize safety. We deeply value the thoroughness of the NTSB's investigation into the crash and look forward to reviewing their recommendations once issued after the NTSB's board meeting later this month."

The NTSB continues to have full access to the company's self-driving car program, and as the investigation is still open, Uber wouldn't directly comment on any specific findings.

The stinging revelation piles on more unflattering looks for the ride-hailing company. Earlier reports also found Uber had disabled the car's factory automatic emergency braking system, and its own autobrake feature for fear of potentially erratic behavior. Additionally, investigators found there was no system in place to alert the human safety driver of an oncoming object.

The safety driver present in this crash was streaming TV on her phone at the time of the crash. Investigators found she was distracted from the road for about one-third of the 20-minute period leading up to the crash.

The NTSB has not formally given its verdict on what caused the crash, though Bloomberg said it will do so in the coming weeks. Uber, since the crash, has worked to clean up its self-driving vehicle program and initiated changes to its autonomous technology. The updated technology, according to Uber, would have spotted a jaywalking pedestrian about four seconds before impact.

Originally published Nov. 6, 7:39 a.m. PT.

Update, 1:09 p.m.: Adds statement from Uber.

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