NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Uber Test Vehicle Crash

The Board’s report said the self-driving system data showed the vehicle operator engaged the steering wheel less than a second before impact and began braking less than a second after impact.

The National Transportation Safety Board released Thursday its preliminary report for the ongoing investigation of a fatal Tempe, Ariz., crash that involved a pedestrian and an Uber Technologies, Inc. test vehicle.

On March 18, 2012, the modified 2017 Volvo XC90, occupied by one vehicle operator and operating with a self-driving system in computer control mode, struck a pedestrian. The pedestrian suffered fatal injuries but the vehicle operator was not injured.

The preliminary report, by its nature, does not contain probable cause. It states the pedestrian was dressed in dark clothing, did not look in the direction of the vehicle until just before impact, and crossed the road in a section not directly illuminated by lighting. It also notes that the pedestrian’s post-accident toxicology results tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana.

In its report the NTSB said Uber had equipped the test vehicle with a developmental self-driving system that consisted of forward- and side-facing cameras, Light Detection and Ranging, radars, navigation sensors, and a computing and data storage unit integrated into the vehicle.

The report states data collected from the self-driving system shows the self-driving system first registered observations of the pedestrian via radar and LIDAR about six seconds before impact. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle. According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is in computer control mode, and the vehicle operator is relied upon to intervene and take action.

The Board’s report said the self-driving system data showed the vehicle operator engaged the steering wheel less than a second before impact and began braking less than a second after impact.

The NTSB continues to gather information on the Uber self-driving system, the vehicle operator, the vehicle interface, the vehicle operator’s personal and business cell phones, the pedestrian, and the roadway. As it is preliminary, the information in the report is subject to change as the investigation continues, and therefore no conclusions about probable cause should be drawn.

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