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Ripple Effects from Uber’s Deadly Self-Driving Crash Have Far-Reaching Impact

Discussion in 'News' started by Gearhead Central, Mar 29, 2018.

  1. Gearhead Central

    Gearhead Central Automotive news feeds

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    Fallout from the fatal collision involving an Uber self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian continues to course through the ride-hailing company and beyond.

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    Among the latest developments: Uber has indicated that it will not attempt to renew its autonomous-testing permit in California, which expires at the end of this month, regulators said Tuesday. The company’s retreat from the state likely heads off scrutiny regarding the crash from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which indicated it will seek analysis of the company’s operations before granting another permit.

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    Uber’s relationship with the California DMV was already strained, with the company having flouted requirements to obtain a testing permit in late 2016 and previously circumvented regulations that prohibited the testing of self-driving technology in trucks. It was the former that resulted in the standoff that sent much of Uber’s testing to Arizona in the first place.

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    That testing resulted in a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, that killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg earlier this month. Across North America, Uber’s self-driving testing has been placed on self-imposed hold in the wake of the incident. But earlier this week, Arizona’s governor indefinitely banned the company from testing on the state’s public roads. Combined with its imminent withdrawal from California, the company’s only remaining self-driving operations are in Pittsburgh and Toronto.

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    “In spite of some extraordinary resources, it just seems like something is fundamentally flawed here.”
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    – Roger Lanctot, Strategy Analytics
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    It remains unclear how the ending of testing in Arizona and California will impact the future of Uber’s self-driving program once it restarts operations—if it does. Some industry analysts believe the company should have no choice but to shutter its self-driving operations.

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    “It’s one thing to be deceiving regulators or ripping off drivers like they did in New York, or misleading people about what kind of income you can make as an Uber driver,” said Roger Lanctot, director of connected mobility for Strategy Analytics, a global automotive consulting firm. “But to bring that same kind of sloppiness and malfeasance to the crafting of your robotaxi technology, it just seems like there should be some way to bar an organization from doing this.”

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    This March 19, 2018, still image taken from video provided by ABC-15 shows investigators at the scene of a fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber car on the street in Tempe, Arizona.
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    Uber hasn’t been the only company affected by its crash. Nvidia, a major provider of computing power for Uber and hundreds of other companies involved in autonomous technology, said Tuesday it has temporarily paused testing of its own self-driving fleet on public roads. The shutdown affects operations in California, New Jersey, Japan, and Germany.
    -Practically, Nvidia’s pause in operations should not have a large effect. The company maintains a half-dozen cars for research-and-development purposes. Symbolically, however, the company has paid a steep price for supplying computing power to Uber’s self-driving system, even though no link between Nvidia’s technology and the cause of the Uber crash is currently known.
    -Nvidia’s stock closed down 7.8 percent in Tuesday trading, a decline of roughly $11 billion in market value. Such a decline illustrates the potential pitfalls that may come with the interconnectedness of suppliers for self-driving systems in a way the industry is just now realizing.

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    Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board examine the Volvo XC90 that killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.
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    The National Transportation Safety Board and other federal, state, and local entities have ongoing investigations into the cause of the crash.

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    While Nvidia supplies approximately 370 companies with processing power for self-driving technology and a flaw within their technology could conceivably affect other partners, Lanctot said the fact no other Nvidia-linked companies have experienced a fault suggests the company’s chips had no role in the collision.​

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    “Nvidia has hundreds of partners out there not killing people and one partner that has,” Lanctot said. “It suggests that Uber needs to be looked at and vetted a little bit differently than the rest. In spite of some extraordinary resources, it just seems like something is fundamentally flawed here.”

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    Nvidia is not the only company dealing with the ramifications of its association with Uber’s self-driving system. Velodyne, a Silicon Valley producer of lidar sensors that help vehicles detect obstacles in their path and the overall road environment, has faced similar questions. Its lidar sensors were on the vehicle involved in the crash and should have perceived Herzberg as she walked her bicycle across Mill Avenue. They may well have; it’s worth emphasizing that no one yet knows whether a sensor problem, Uber’s own algorithms, or something else contributed to the chain of events that led to the crash.

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    “We are as baffled as anyone else,” Marta Hall, Velodyne’s president and chief business development officer, told Forbes earlier this week. “We are at the service of the engineers at NTSB and NHTSA as the findings and facts of the case are discovered.”

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    Aptiv, the supplier formerly known as Delphi, supplies the advanced driver-assist system that’s outfitted aboard the stock Volvo XC90 SUV that Uber uses in its testing fleet.

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    Bloomberg reported that Uber disconnected that system on its test vehicles, although neither Uber, Aptiv, nor Volvo would independently confirm that practice. Nonetheless, Aptiv, which makes its own self-driving systems that are separate from the Uber autonomous-driving system and advanced driver-assist feature, sought to distance itself from any role in the crash this week.

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    “Aptiv was not involved in the integration of the automated driving system,” a company spokesperson said. “Our active safety solutions are fully validated, with proven real-world performance, that have achieved the highest levels of safety ratings. These systems are capable of detecting pedestrians and other objects at substantial distances in order to provide effective warnings and, if needed, take the appropriate action in order to help avoid an accident.”

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    The possibility that Uber disconnected the advanced driver-assist feature on the Volvo raises an unsettling paradox: that safety technology available on today’s stock vehicles may have saved Herzberg, while the self-driving technology from an allegedly safer future could not.

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    While investigators continue to look for answers, it’s clear that Uber and others will be reckoning with the consequences for the foreseeable future.

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