This past weekend, a driverless Uber testing the roads in Arizona failed to hit the brakes in due time and killed an innocent woman. The tragedy comes at a time when more and more companies are pushing the legal system to allow their autonomous technology to be tested in the wild.
According to a police account, the incident occurred last Sunday, at 10p.m, in Tempe, Arizona. The car was driving autonomously but there was a human driver behind the wheel. Even so, neither car nor driver saw the woman cross a four-lane road outside the crosswalk with her bag-filled bike in tow. It all happened very fast – the Uber didn’t stop, colliding with the woman and killing her on the spot.
The following investigation revealed that the victim was Elaine Herzberg, 49, a homeless person with hopes of leaving the streets once and for all. Her friends said she was working with a local organization to secure an apartment and get a roommate. Kriss Kidd, one of the people who knew her closely, remembers that “she didn’t want to be out here anymore. The longer you’re out here, the streets just eat you up.”
Herzberg is the first confirmed kill of an autonomous vehicle. It is still unclear why the car failed to notice the pedestrian. It’s possible that the shape of the bike and of the bags tricked the system into believing it was dealing with objects, not a human being. We will have to wait for the results of the official police investigation to know for sure.
Meanwhile, driverless tests have been suspended in Tempe, as well as in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto.