Mobileye says its software would have seen Uber crash victim

As Arizona governor suspends Uber autonomous vehicle trials in state
The NTSB is investigating the incident. Credit: Reuters

The NTSB is investigating the incident. Credit: Reuters

The CTO of Mobileye has claimed the company’s advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) software would have seen the pedestrian killed by a self-driving Uber car last week.

Amnon Shashua, CTO and CEO of the Intel parented company, said his team ran their vision-based ADAS software on a TV monitor playing the dashcam video of the fatal collision which has been released by Arizona’s Tempe Police.

“Despite the suboptimal conditions, where much of the high dynamic range data that would be present in the actual scene was likely lost, clear detection was achieved approximately one second before impact,” Shashua wrote in a blog post.

ADAS software has been rolled out by numerous car manufacturers, and is the technology behind features like automatic emergency braking and lane assist found in 24 million vehicles around the world.

The technology is part of trials on New South Wales roads – including the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Hills M2 Motorway, Westlink M7, the M5, Eastern Distributor, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Harbour Tunnel – until October.

“It is the high-accuracy sensing systems inside ADAS that are saving lives today, proven over billions of miles driven. It is this same technology that is required, before tackling even tougher challenges, as a foundational element of fully autonomous vehicles of the future,” Shushua wrote.

“The software being used for this experiment is the same as included in today’s ADAS-equipped vehicles, which have been proven over billions of miles in the hands of consumers,” he added.

Taking a swipe at newer entrants to the autonomous and driver assisted vehicle field, such as Uber, Shushua said that developments in AI and deep neural networks have led them to believe developing accurate object detection systems is “now easy”.

“This dynamic has led to many new entrants in the field. While these techniques are helpful, the legacy of identifying and closing hundreds of corner cases, annotating data sets of tens of millions of miles, and going through challenging preproduction validation tests on dozens of production ADAS programs, cannot be skipped,” he wrote. “Experience counts, particularly in safety-critical areas.”

Mobileye says its software would have detected Uber crash victim, Elaine Herzog
Mobileye says its software would have detected Uber crash victim, Elaine Herzog

Bloomberg reports today claims that Uber disabled the standard collision-avoidance – ADAS – technology in the Volvo SUV which was involved in the collision.

A spokesperson for Aptiv, which supplies the radar and camera equipment in use in the Volvo XC90’s ADAS system, said it “has nothing to do” with the Uber test vehicle’s autonomous driving system.

Shushua called on automobile makers and technology companies working in the field to convene to have “substantive conversations about safety”.

“More incidents like the one last week could do further harm to already fragile consumer trust and spur reactive regulation that could stifle this important work…I firmly believe the time to have a meaningful discussion on a safety validation framework for fully autonomous vehicles is now,” he wrote.

Reappraising Arizona

It is likely to take some time before an assessment is made as to why the vehicle failed to see and stop in time to avoid 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was walking her bike across the road at the time. Investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were on the ground last Tuesday, examining the vehicle involved and the accident site.

The NTSB said it will be gathering information about the onboard technology and “beginning collection of any and all electronic data stored on the test vehicle or transmitted to Uber”.

Uber has now put tests of its self-driving vehicles on public roads on pause. Toyota has also suspended its driverless car tests, citing the "emotional effect" the incident could have on its test drivers. Other companies involved in trialing the technology have not.

"The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine's loved ones. Our cars remain grounded, and we're assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can," Uber said in a statement last week.

The governor of Arizona Doug Ducey on Monday suspended Uber's ability to test self-driving cars on public roads in the state. Arizona had been a key hub for Uber, with about half of the company's 200 self-driving cars and a staff of hundreds.

In a letter sent to Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi and shared with the media, Governor Doug Ducey said he found a video released by police of the crash "disturbing and alarming, and it raises many questions about the ability of Uber to continue testing in Arizona."

"In the best interests of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber's ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona's public roadways," Ducey said.