NEWSBYTE: Uber has halted tests of its self-driving cars in North America after a woman was killed on Sunday night by an Uber Volvo.
The victim has been named as Elaine Herzberg, 49.
The incident in Tempe, Arizona, is believed to be the first fatal accident involving an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian. Uber is testing driverless cars in the city, and in three other locations, including San Francisco.
Last month California approved the use of fully driverless cars on public roads – in other words, with no safety driver onboard. Meanwhile, Waymo began testing a fleet of driverless trucks in the US last week.
According to Arizona police, the Uber car was operating autonomously, with a safety driver onboard, when the woman crossed the road in front of it. The car struck her while travelling at about 40mph, and she later died in hospital.
The fatality comes almost exactly a year after another Uber Volvo was involved in a three-vehicle collision in Tempe, which left the vehicle lying on its side.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a Twitter post: “Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened.”
The incident is the latest in a series of brand-damaging problems for Uber, which include the loss of its licence in London, and an acrimonious legal dispute with Waymo over patent infringement , which triggered the departure of Uber’s co-founding CEO, Travis Kalanick.
Internet of Business says
While the cause of the tragic accident is unknown at present, how the loss of life is dealt with will inevitably set legal and cultural precedents, both for the industry and for society as a whole.
Let’s hope that other driverless car companies also suspend tests as a mark of respect.
A serious concern with all AI systems, and not just smart vehicles, is that establishing liability for accidents or mistakes may prove difficult, and even push the onus of responsibility onto victims, inverting normal legal principles. That would be unacceptable.
The public mood will be a critical factor from now on. While most citizens are intrigued by driverless cars, drones, and similar technologies, there is clearly a suspension of disbelief involved, for those outside of the technology sector.
Driverless cars and pilotless planes are counter-intuitive concepts, and it’s conceivable that, however many billions of dollars are poured into these technologies and however sophisticated they may already be, the public may simply decide that the idea is unacceptable. The industry needs to be prepared for that outcome.