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Autonomous car innovations: from jam busters to cures for queasiness | Technology

Autonomous car innovations: from jam busters to cures for queasiness | Technology


Insurers at the wheel

An Oxford University startup, Oxbotica, proposes to solve the problem of liability in a collision involving autonomous vehicles by allowing insurers access to the vast amounts of data the car generates, even allowing them to control a car in real time if it detects a dangerous situation.



Technology could solve the unexplained traffic jam. Photograph: Alamy

Ending random jams

A recent paper published in Transportation Research found that autonomous cars could bring about the end of congestion with no obvious explanation. These are caused by one driver’s unexpected behaviour (most often braking) being copied and exaggerated by following vehicles. The study demonstrated the networked cars were able to slow more gently and not create jams.

Deepmind claims to have come up with an AI program that mimics the brain’s ‘neural GPS’ system.



Deepmind claims to have come up with an AI program that mimics the brain’s ‘neural GPS’ system. Photograph: Alamy

Self-learning brains

A recent study published in Nature from Google-backed AI company Deepmind claims to have developed an AI program that resembles the neural GPS system found inside the brain. At present, its algorithm can only work in mazes but it plans to test it in more “challenging environments”.

A startup is developing shock absorbers to combat travel sickness.



A startup is developing shock absorbers to combat travel sickness. Photograph: Alamy

No more motion sickness

Driving helps mitigate motion sickness by making us engaged with the experience of movement. But passengers in an autonomous car will find it hard to anticipate movement and could feel queasy. Boston startup ClearMotion is working on shock absorbers that will counter the feeling of movement – thereby, it hopes, reducing the need for sick bags.

BMW is developing a self-driving version of one of its luxury saloons.



BMW is developing a self-driving version of one of its luxury saloons. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Robot taxis

Earlier this month, BMW demonstrated a self-driving 7 Series that pedestrians could hail and direct to their destination via a tablet. In a rather analogue touch, passengers were also allowed to honk the car horn to alert pedestrians and stray dogs to their self-driving presence.



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Tesla driver says car was in autopilot when it crashed at 60mph | Technology

Tesla driver says car was in autopilot when it crashed at 60mph | Technology


The driver of a Tesla car that failed to stop at a red light and collided with a firetruck told investigators that the vehicle was operating on “autopilot” mode when it crashed, police said.

A Tesla Model S was traveling at 60mph when it collided with the emergency vehicle in South Jordan, Utah, on Friday, causing minor injuries to both drivers, officials said Monday. The Tesla driver’s claim that the car was using the autopilot technology has raised fresh questions about the electric car company’s semi-autonomous system, which is supposed to assist drivers in navigating the road.

The exact cause of the crash, which left the driver with a broken ankle, remains unknown, with Tesla saying it did not yet have the car’s data and could not comment on whether autopilot was engaged. South Jordan police also said the 28-year-old driver “admitted that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision” and that witnesses said the car did not brake or take any action to avoid the crash.

“As a reminder for drivers of semi-autonomous vehicles, it is the driver’s responsibility to stay alert, drive safely, and be in control of the vehicle at all times,” the police department said in a statement.


The scene of the crash in Utah. Photograph: Courtesy of the South Jordan police department

While driverless technology is expected to make the roads significantly safer by reducing human error and crashes, companies like Tesla are currently in a transition period that some experts say has created unique risks. That’s because semi-autonomous features, research has shown, can lull drivers into a false sense of security and make it hard for them to remain alert and intervene as needed.

Tesla has faced backlash for its decision to brand the technology “autopilot”, given that the drivers are expected not to depend on the feature to keep them safe.

After a Tesla autopilot crash in March resulted in the driver’s death, the company issued a series of lengthy statements blaming the victim for “not paying attention”.

On Monday, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk complained about an article on the Utah crash, writing on Twitter: “It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage.”

He also wrote that it was “actually amazing” the collision at 60mph only resulted in a broken ankle: “An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death.”

Musk has on numerous occasions forcefully chastised journalists investigating Tesla crashes, arguing that the unflattering news coverage was dissuading people from using the technology and thus “killing people” in the process. After Tesla recently labeled an award-winning news outlet an “extremist organization”, some critics compared the company’s hyperbolic denouncements of the press to the anti-media strategy of president Donald Trump.





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Tesla car that crashed and killed driver was running on Autopilot, firm says | Technology

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Tesla has said a car that crashed in California last week, killing its driver, was operating on Autopilot.

The 23 March crash on highway 101 in Mountain View is the latest accident to involve self-driving technology. Earlier this month, a self-driving Volvo SUV that was being tested by the ride-hailing service Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

Federal investigators are looking into the California crash, as well a crash in January of a Tesla Model S that may have been operating under the Autopilot system.

In a blogpost, Tesla said the driver of the sport-utility Model X that crashed in Mountain View, 38-year-old Wei Huang, “had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision.

“The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider … but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”

Tesla also said the concrete highway divider had previously been damaged, increasing its impact on the car. The vehicle also caught fire, though Tesla said no one was in the vehicle when that happened.

The company said its Autopilot feature can keep speed, change lanes and self-park but requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, in order to be able to take control and avoid accidents.

Autopilot does not prevent all accidents, Tesla said, but it does make them less likely.

“No one knows about the accidents that didn’t happen,” Tesla said, “only the ones that did. The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe.

“There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year.”

The company added that it “care[s] deeply for and feel[s] indebted to those who chose to put their trust in us. However, we must also care about people now and in the future whose lives may be saved if they know that Autopilot improves safety.

“None of this changes how devastating an event like this is or how much we feel for our customer’s family and friends. We are incredibly sorry for their loss.”



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Uber settles with family of woman killed by self-driving car | Technology

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The family of the woman killed by an Uber self-driving vehicle in Arizona has reached a settlement with the ride services company, ending a potential legal battle over the first fatality caused by an autonomous vehicle.

Cristina Perez Hesano, attorney with the firm of Bellah Perez in Glendale, Arizona, said “the matter has been resolved” between Uber and daughter and husband of Elaine Herzberg, 49, who died after being hit by an Uber self-driving SUV in Tempe earlier this month.

Terms of the settlement were not given. The law firm representing them said Herzberg’s daughter and husband, whose names were not disclosed, will have no further comment on the matter as they consider it resolved.

Fall-out from the accident could stall the development and testing of self-driving vehicles, which are designed to eventually perform far better than human drivers and sharply reduce the number of motor vehicle fatalities.

Uber and microchip developer Nvidia Corp have put self-driving car testing programs on hold following the fatality, which is believed to be the first death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving vehicle.

The fatality also presents an unprecedented liability challenge because self-driving vehicles, which are still in the development stage, involve a complex system of hardware and software often made by outside suppliers.

Herzberg was walking across a divided four-lane road with her bicycle when she was struck. A video taken from a dash-mounted camera inside the vehicle that was released by Tempe police showed the SUV traveling along a dark street when suddenly the headlights illuminated Herzberg in front of the SUV.

Other footage showed the human driver who was behind the wheel mostly looking down and not at the road in the seconds before the incident.

Meanwhile, Nvidia Corp has sought to distance itself from Uber saying it does not use Nvidia’s self-driving platform architecture.

The ride-hailing service uses Nvidia’s graphics processing units known as GPUs, its chief executive Jensen Huang said.

“Uber does not use Nvidia drive technology. Uber develops its own sensing and drive technology,” Huang said.

Nvidia’s platform is used by more than 370 companies developing self-driving technology, including automakers and robotaxi companies and makers of self-driving hardware, such as sensors.

Nvidia’s shares have fallen by about 9.5% since the company said on Tuesday it was temporarily halting its self-driving tests on public roads out of respect for the victim in the 18 March crash in Tempe.



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Exclusive: Arizona governor and Uber kept self-driving program secret, emails reveal | Technology

Exclusive: Arizona governor and Uber kept self-driving program secret, emails reveal | Technology


Arizona’s Republican governor repeatedly encouraged Uber’s controversial experiment with autonomous cars in the state, enabling a secret testing program for self-driving vehicles with limited oversight from experts, according to hundreds of emails obtained by the Guardian.

The previously unseen emails between Uber and the office of governor Doug Ducey reveal how Uber began quietly testing self-driving cars in Phoenix in August 2016 without informing the public.

On Monday, 10 days after one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles killed a pedestrian in a Phoenix suburb, Ducey suspended the company’s right to operate autonomous cars on public roads in Arizona. It was a major about-face for the governor, who has spent years embracing the Silicon Valley startup.

Uber’s behind-the-scenes efforts to court Ducey, and the governor’s apparent willingness to satisfy the company, is made clear in the emails, which were sent between 2015 and 2007 and obtained by the Guardian through public records requests.

They reveal how Uber offered workspace for Ducey’s staff in San Francisco, praised the governor lavishly, and promised to bring money and jobs to his state. Ducey, meanwhile, helped Uber deal with other officials in Arizona, issued decrees that were friendly to the company, tweeted out an advert at the company’s request, and even seems to have been open to wearing an Uber T-shirt at an official event.

There is no way to know whether tougher regulations would have prevented the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was struck by an Uber-owned Volvo while it was in self-driving mode on 19 March. Uber immediately suspended its self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.


Uber dashcam footage shows lead up to fatal self-driving crash – video

The first fatal crash involving a self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian in the US has sparked a national discussion about the safety of a technology, which tech companies claim will dramatically improve road safety.

However the correspondence between Ducey and Uber will now throw a spotlight on the Arizona governor’s office – and raise questions about his apparently laissez-faire approach to safety. While Arizona’s neighbour California has some of the toughest self-driving regulations in America, other states, such as Michigan and Florida, are at least as permissive as Arizona, with few restrictions and little oversight of highly automated vehicles.

‘A real thought leader’

Arizona was not always a friendly state for Uber. In April 2014, then-governor Jan Brewer vetoed legislation that would have exempted taxi-hailing companies from insurance regulations imposed on traditional taxis.

Uber and Lyft continued to operate in the state, however, risking fines for their drivers. In late 2014, Brewer was replaced by Ducey, a fellow Republican, and Uber almost immediately began its charm offensive. A month after being sworn in, Ducey met with David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, who had been hired by Uber as a senior vice-president, and another Uber executive named Justin Kintz.

The following week, Kintz wrote to Ducey: “I know [Plouffe] and [Uber founder] Travis [Kalanick] are as excited as I am to expand our footprint in Arizona, and we are encouraged that the state legislature is interested in codifying a permanent regulatory structure for ridesharing.”

One of Ducey’s first acts as governor was to instruct officials not to pursue ride-share drivers over taxi licensing rules. Uber seemed to have secured a political ally in Ducey who signed a bill legalizing ride-sharing at a high-profile ceremony in April 2015, flanked by Uber and Lyft drivers and executives.

In the run-up to the ceremony, Uber staff wrote to Ducey’s office with some questions. “Is the governor still interested in wearing an Uber shirt at the event? We’re looking into polo shirts, and it would be great to get his size,” wrote one. “Can we swap out the order and have the Uber driver [introduce the governor]?” wrote another. “I think this makes more sense since this is ultimately about them.”

While Ducey’s team agreed to Uber’s scheduling preference, photographs from the signing show him wearing a plain blue shirt. Nevertheless, Uber was pleased with Ducey’s performance. Justin Kintz sent a gushing email to Ducey’s chief of staff calling the governor “a real thought leader on these innovation issues”. Uber also said it would send out an “all-rider, all-driver email thanking the [governor] and the state of AZ for their leadership.”



One of Uber’s self-driving cars in Arizona. The crash has sparked a national discussion about the safety of a technology. Photograph: Natalie Behring/Reuters

In June of 2015, Uber opened a customer support centre in Phoenix that would bring 300 jobs to the city. Two months later, Ducey held a joint press conference with Uber to announce a $25,000 gift by the company to the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences. Uber said that it would base a fleet of mapping cars at the university, and collaborate with academics on laser-ranging lidars.

The same day, Ducey issued an executive order clearing the way for the public testing and operation of autonomous cars, so long as they had human safety drivers inside the vehicles to take over controls in the event of an emergency. Ducey’s decree also allowed fully driverless pilot programs to take place on university campuses. Uber could not have asked for a better order if it had written it itself. (Uber says now that it did, in fact, suggest some concepts for the order.)

The executive order also acknowledged public concerns about the safety of self-driving vehicles. It established a self-driving vehicle oversight committee of experts to advise state agencies and propose new rules – although Uber proposed the company should be part of that group.

In February 2016, Ashwini Chhabra, the head of policy development at Uber, wrote to a transportation policy adviser in Ducey’s office: “Wanted to follow up from our meeting earlier in the month, to discuss the AV Oversight Committee you are convening. Uber would be happy to participate in that, and I will be our representative to that effort.”

In the end, Uber did not get its own seat on the oversight board mandated to police self-driving programs. But the company is likely to have been pleased by the composition of those who did: all eight of the oversight board’s members are employed by the state and serve at the pleasure of Arizona’s pro-Uber governor. Some were political appointees, others administrators. Only one of its members could be considered an expert in self-driving technologies: Larry Head, a professor of systems engineering at the University of Arizona.

According to its website, the oversight committee has only met once. It has called no witnesses, demanded no documents, taken no actions, and issued no recommendations.

We couldn’t do this without you guys’

After securing the backing of Arizona’s governor, Uber’s next objective was ensuring its drivers could pick up passengers from the state’s main airport, Sky Harbor, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Phoenix city council. In May 2016, Craig Hulse, one of Uber’s public policy managers, asked Danny Seiden, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff: “Who do you deal with in mayor’s office on airport issues?”

Seiden provided some names and, the following month, the council passed a plan that was favorable to Uber.

One council member later complained that Ducey had threatened retaliation if the plan did not go through. “There’s been pressure placed on us by the governor,” Laura Pastor, now vice-mayor of Phoenix, told AZ Central. When the plan passed, one of Uber’s first tweets was to thank Ducey.

The next month, Uber launched its Eats food delivery service in Arizona. Uber’s communications manager, Taylor Patterson, alerted Ducey’s office on 11 July, requesting a gubernatorial plug. “We’d love if you could push out this tweet sometime tomorrow. ‘Welcome @ubereats to AZ! Embracing the sharing economy makes getting fresh food at the tap of a button possible.’ As always thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do this without you guys.”

The following day, Ducey duly tweeted, “Great to have @UberEats in Az! Embracing the sharing economy makes getting fresh food at the tap of a button possible.” He included a direct link to the Uber Eats website.

The following month, in August 2016, Uber made a major announcement: it would soon launch driverless vehicles on the streets of Pittsburgh, enabling its customers to hail self-driving cars for first time. It seemed like a bold and perhaps risky move for a technology that many experts believed was far from being fully road tested.

Chhabra, Uber’s head of policy development, told Ducey’s office that Phoenix need not feel left out. The city could be close behind: “The expansion in Pittsburgh is a step in this direction, but we’re more excited than ever to bring [our self-driving effort] to fruition in AZ.”

A test driver inside an Uber self-driving car. The company has had its autonomous car program suspended in Arizona.



A test driver inside an Uber self-driving car. The company has had its autonomous car program suspended in Arizona. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

In fact, Uber was already planning to quietly upgrade the mapping cars it had in Arizona to autonomous vehicles. On 19 August, Chhabra wrote Seiden, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, to let him know that “starting this weekend” Uber would “start testing some self-driving functionality”. It was an innocuous-seeming email that in fact announced a major precedent. “There will be safety drivers at the wheel, so won’t look much different from what’s already been on the road but wanted to flag it for you nonetheless,” Chhabra said.

Remarkably, the public appears to have been kept in the dark. Because of Arizona’s regulatory vacuum, neither Uber nor Ducey were obliged to inform the public that Uber’s cars would now be driving themselves on public roads. Neither, it seems, did they believe they had an ethical duty to do so.

Uber says that it did not make a public announcement because its efforts were focused on launching the Pittsburgh pilot. Uber did, however, at least suggest keeping someone in local law enforcement in the loop over that Uber’s self-driving vehicles would be on state roads. Chhabra wrote to Seiden, saying Uber wanted to give Phoenix police department “a heads up” about the secret program, and asking if he would recommend someone “discreet” to contact.

Contacted by the Guardian, Ducey declined to explain why the governor’s office chose to keep the program secret. However the emails make clear the links between his office and Uber were getting closer all the time.

When Seiden took a trip to San Francisco that August, Uber offered him the use of its offices. “I’m happy to host you here at Uber and set you up with a work space and any meetings, etc.” wrote a public affairs manager.

Arizona welcomes Uber with open arms’

In December, Uber launched its self-driving cars in San Francisco, without applying for the autonomous vehicle testing permits that California requires. It was an audacious move, and it backfired after California revoked the registration of Uber’s 16 test vehicles after several had been spotted running red lights in the city.

Blocked from using the vehicles in California, Uber had a quick fix. It put the cars on a on flatbed truck and transported them across the border, to Arizona. Ducey could not have been happier. “Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads,” he wrote in a statement at the time. “While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses.”

Ducey did not mention that Uber had, in fact, been secretly testing its self-driving cars in the state since the summer.

The self-driving vehicle oversight committee created by Ducey appeared not to have any qualms about the sudden arrival of experimental vehicles banned from San Francisco after apparently breaking traffic laws. Committee member Larry Head issued a statement that read: “People should be a little more open-minded and be excited about the opportunity. Technology is really cool.”

Investigators examine the vehicle involved in the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona.



Investigators examine the vehicle involved in the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters

The next month, in January 2017, Ducey delivered a state of the state speech that Uber’s Kintz called “outstanding” in an email to his staff. The governor’s address was certainly beneficial to Uber; Ducey declared that Arizona’s approach to self-driving technology would be “the opposite approach” to California, which he said had moved “backwards with more nutty ideas”, and added: “We will move forward by rolling up our sleeves and rolling back more regulations that are standing in the way of job growth.”

By the time of the fatal crash earlier this month, around half of all Uber’s 200 self-driving cars were located in Arizona. The fatality has shed light on the quality of Uber’s self-driving program technology, which can be measured by the number of times human drivers are forced to take over the controls from the autonomous computer.

According to the New York Times, Uber’s human drivers had to intervene far more frequently than those working for its rivals. It reported that Waymo, Google’s self-driving car spinoff, said that in tests on roads in California last year, its cars went an average of nearly 5,600 miles before the driver had to seize control of its vehicles. As of March, Uber was struggling to meet its target of 13 miles per “intervention” in Arizona, according to the Times.

It is also unclear how much economic reward Arizona has reaped from its relationship with Uber in returning for opening itself up as a low-regulation testing ground for the company.

Uber has retained its high-level executives and engineering know-how, for example, in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. And despite the fanfare Ducey created around Uber’s collaboration with Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences, its dean told the Guardian: “Our dialog with Uber has not led to any significant ongoing research engagement.”

But Ducey still has sleeves to roll up. Two weeks before the fatal crash, he issued a new executive order explicitly allowing fully driverless vehicles on Arizona’s roads, as long as companies claim that their vehicles comply with federal safety standards.

In a statement he wrote 17 days before Herzberg was killed, Ducey said: “This executive order embraces new technologies by creating an environment that supports autonomous vehicle innovation and maintains a focus on public safety.”



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Arizona suspends Uber’s self-driving car testing after fatality | Technology

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Arizona governor Doug Ducey suspended Uber’s self-driving vehicle testing on Monday following a pedestrian fatality in a Phoenix suburb last week.

Ducey told Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi that video footage of the crash raised concerns about the company’s ability to safely test its technology in Arizona.

He said he expects public safety to be the top priority for those who operate self-driving cars. “The incident that took place on 18 March is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation,” Ducey said.

The move by the Republican governor marks a major step back from his embrace of self-driving vehicles. He previously welcomed Uber and other autonomous vehicle companies to use Arizona as a place for testing under few, if any, regulations.

In early March, he authorized self-driving vehicle companies to run tests without a person in the car to act as a safety operator.

Police in Tempe released a 22-second video showing a woman walking from a darkened area onto a street just before an Uber SUV strikes her. The Volvo was in self-driving mode with a human backup driver at the wheel when it struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, police said.

Uber’s human backup driver appears on the video to be looking down before crash and appears startled about the time of the impact.

Experts who viewed the video said the SUV’s sensors should have seen the woman pushing a bicycle and braked before the impact.

The fatal crash in Tempe was the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle in the US. Uber immediately suspended its self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

On Friday, The New York Times reported the company’s own documents showed the testing program was rife with issues. They included trouble driving through construction zones and requiring far more human intervention than competing companies.

In Arizona, companies such as Uber only need to carry minimum liability insurance to operate self-driving cars. They are not required to track crashes or report any information to the state.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.



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Waymo expands self-driving taxi plans with Jaguar Land Rover link-up | Technology

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The self-driving car company Waymo will buy up to 20,000 electric vehicles from Jaguar Land Rover to help realize its vision for a robotic ride-hailing service.

The commitment announced Tuesday marks another step in Waymo’s evolution from a secret project started in Google nine years ago to a spinoff that’s gearing up for an audacious attempt to reshape the transportation business.

The Jaguar deal will expand upon a fleet of self-driving cars that Waymo has been gradually building in partnership with Fiat Chrysler since 2015.

The minivans will be part of a ride-hailing service that Waymo plans to launch in Arizona later this year.

Jaguar will deliver its vehicles for Waymo’s ride-hailing from 2020 to 2022. Waymo says the 20,000 I-Pace models will provide up to 1m rides per day.



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Being a driverless car passenger proves ‘unsettling and extraordinary’ | Technology

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How many people does it take to drive a driverless car? Five: a safety driver behind the wheel, an operator to program the route, and three engineers monitoring it in another car behind.

It is, to be fair, barely even a prototype. The autonomous car unveiled in Milton Keynes last week is bleeding-edge engineering, Britain’s entry in a global race to get the first driverless car on the road.

The converted Range Rover Sport can steer itself, speed up and slow down, stop at red lights and move off when they turn green. It can even cope with roundabouts, a fundamental skill in Milton Keynes. The five operators are there to examine every nuance of the car’s reaction to the ever-changing road conditions – cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers, and the weather, to name a few.

The public demonstration of the car by UK Autodrive, a consortium led by engineering company Arup, supported by Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Motors, should have been a celebratory milestone for British motor manufacturing.

Yet growing excitement about self-driving cars was shattered by the death of Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, last week. She was hit by an autonomous Uber that did not apparently detect the 49-year-old when she wheeled her bicycle across the road at night.

“It’s dreadful,” says Tim Armitage, the project director for UK Autodrive. “It’s dreadful for the person involved – everyone involved. And it shows just how important it is to make sure that what we are demonstrating today is safe and that we don’t oversell the technology.”

UK Autodrive’s engineering efforts are focused on safety, but that is not the only concern. The government has invested £250m into several major research projects, involving at least 1,000 people, Armitage estimates. By 2035 the Department for Transport expects the industry to be worth £50bn to the economy – about a third of all UK manufacturing, although the current motor industry contributes about £58bn. Still, there’s a lot riding on the success of self-driving cars.

The government strategy for getting there is all about research. By dangling substantial grants, it has managed to corral car companies, universities and other interests into working together – a contrast to the US, for example, where Uber, Google’s Waymo and Toyota are entirely competitive.

In the UK there are 15 government-sponsored projects led by four major consortiums like UK Autodrive which are coming at the problem from different angles – predicting the behaviour of other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, understanding the needs of elderly or disabled drivers, and the challenges of motorways.

All the research returns to the same theme: how to make roads safe while allowing people to travel where they need to.

As with any technology, there are glitches. On the demonstration drive in Milton Keynes, we have a near-miss when the car lurches forward at a junction in the car park. The safety driver, Jim O’Donoghue, saves us from an impending collision with a parked car by grabbing the wheel. Afterwards he’s not quite sure if he realised the car was going wrong or if it warned him it couldn’t cope. “I’ve been driving it for several weeks, so I’m really tuned in to it,” he says, underlining the unconscious, near-visceral familiarity that people have with technology they use regularly. Driver behaviour and human-machine interaction are all important elements of the research.

Being a passenger in this Range Rover is like being driven by a clumsy taxi driver. Acceleration feels aggressive – from the traffic lights, it’s foot-to-the-floor until we hit 30 miles per hour. Braking starts rather later than I would like.

Once up to speed, it drives extraordinarily close to the kerb. The side sensors can judge the distance much more precisely than a human. It all adds up to an unsettling experience that feels entirely unlike riding any other vehicle. But the car, it must be emphasised, is still being built – sensors and controls are adjusted on a daily basis.

These cars are the most eye-catching part of the research, with the aim to design a vehicle that can cope with any situation more safely than a human driver. The other, more immediate focus is on connected cars – using mobile phone technology to allow every vehicle on the road to talk to each other. Another demonstration shows how drivers in standard cars can be given information, such as whether cars in traffic ahead are braking sharply, or if an ambulance is approaching.

Possibly the most compelling project is on finding parking spaces. Cars with visual sensors can detect parking spaces and share the information with a network of connected cars, and inform the driver where the closest spot is. “About 30% of traffic is people driving round looking for parking spaces,” Armitage says. “In the future we might need far less car parking. Imagine what you could do with the space.”

The research invites questions that are much more fundamental than simply how to build a safe, self-driving car to replicate the UK’s fleet of driver-owned internal combustion vehicles. Instead of owning or leasing one vehicle for all your needs, people could access different types of vehicle for different journey.

Another fundamental question is how much UK roads might change to enable self-driving cars to work more effectively. Cars could connect with each other, but also with road furniture like traffic lights, prompting drivers to slow down ahead of red lights. The growing infrastructure around electric cars shows how quickly this could happen. Arup laid electric cables and charging infrastructure in Milton Keynes when the council decided it would try to become the centre of electric cars in the UK. “When they first arrived, there were complaints from drivers of internal combustion engine cars that too many parking spaces were given over to charging points. Now they’re all full.”

One of the projects closest to completion involves self-driving pods. The Gateway consortium in Greenwich peninsula, London, has been operating four driverless pods in pedestrian areas, examining how members of the public react. There are similar pods in Milton Keynes.“We’re hoping that will be ready before the end of the year,” Armitage says. “Singapore is very interested in what we’re doing., “They want autonomous buses because they can’t recruit enough drivers.” It’s a potential export opportunity that would establish the UK’s self-driving credentials on the world stage. So while this Range Rover may not be fit to drive unsupervised yet, we are likely to see more autonomous vehicles operating very soon.



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Uber crash shows ‘catastrophic failure’ of self-driving technology, experts say | Technology

Uber crash shows ‘catastrophic failure’ of self-driving technology, experts say | Technology


Video of the first self-driving car crash that killed a pedestrian suggests a “catastrophic failure” by Uber’s technology, according to experts in the field, who said the footage showed the autonomous system erring on one of its most basic functions.

Days after a self-driving Uber SUV struck a 49-year-old pedestrian while she was crossing the street with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona, footage released by police revealed that the vehicle was moving in autonomous mode and did not appear to slow down or detect the woman even though she was visible in front of the car prior to the collision. Multiple experts have raised questions about Uber’s Lidar technology, which is the system of lasers that the autonomous cars uses to “see” the world around them.

“This is exactly the type of situation that Lidar and radar are supposed to pick up,” said David King, an Arizona State University professor and transportation planning expert. “This is a catastrophic failure that happened with Uber’s technology.”

The videos of the car hitting Elaine Herzberg also demonstrated that the “safety driver” inside the car did not seem to be monitoring the road, raising concerns about the testing systems Uber and other self-driving car companies have deployed in cities across the US.

“This safety driver was not doing any safety monitoring,” said Missy Cummings, a Duke University engineering professor who has testified about the dangers of self-driving technology. Research has shown that humans monitoring an automated system are likely to become bored and disengaged, she said, which makes this current phase of semi-autonomous testing particularly dangerous.

“The problem of complacent safety drivers is going to be a problem for every company.”

The footage “strongly suggests a failure by Uber’s automated driving system and a lack of due care by Uber’s driver”, Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law school professor and autonomous vehicle expert, said in an email. He noted that the victim is visible about two seconds before the collision, saying: “This is similar to the average reaction time for a driver. That means an alert driver may have at least attempted to swerve or brake.”

The car was traveling at 38 miles per hour at 10pm on Sunday, according to the Tempe police chief, Sylvia Moir, who told a reporter that she thought the video showed Uber was not at fault. Experts who reviewed the footage, however, said the opposite appeared to be true.

“I really don’t understand why Lidar didn’t pick this up,” said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor and self-driving expert. “This video does not absolve Uber.”



An Uber self-driving Volvo fitted with ‘Lidar’ technology. Photograph: Uber Handout/EPA

Even though the video appeared dark, King said there was likely more visibility than the footage suggested and noted that the darkness should not affect the car’s detection abilities.

“Shadows don’t matter to Lidar,” added Cummings. “There is no question it should have been able to see her.”

Police have emphasized that the victim was not in a crosswalk at the time of the crash, but experts said the technology still should have stopped the vehicle, a Volvo, and King noted that the exact section where Herzberg entered the street is a common area for pedestrians to cross near a local park.

John M Simpson, privacy and technology project director with Consumer Watchdog, said the video revealed a “complete failure” of Uber’s technology and its safety protocols, and said all testing programs on public roads should be suspended while the case is under investigation.

“Uber appears to be a company that has been rushing and taking shortcuts to get these things on the road,” said Simpson, noting that Arizona leaders lured the corporation to its state with promises of fewer regulations, after Uber fought with California over its vehicles running red lights. “It’s inexcusable.”

Uber, which temporarily suspended testing, declined to comment on the causes of the crash. A spokesperson said in a statement that the video was “disturbing and heartbreaking”, adding: “Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”





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Video released of Uber self-driving crash that killed woman in Arizona | Technology

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Video of the first self-driving car crash that killed a pedestrian showed how the autonomous Uber failed to slow down as it fatally hit a 49-year-old woman walking her bike across the street.

The newly released footage of the collision that killed Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday night has raised fresh questions about why the self-driving car did not stop when a human entered its path and has sparked scrutiny of regulations in the state, which has encouraged testing of the autonomous technology.

“It’s just awful,” Tina Marie Herzberg White, a stepdaughter of the victim, told the Guardian on Wednesday. “There should be a criminal case.”

Police have released two videos of the case – one outside and one showing the interior of the Volvo SUV. The four-second exterior video showed the car driving down a somewhat dark and largely empty street as it collided into the woman walking directly in its path.

Tempe Police
(@TempePolice)

Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating
the details of this incident that occurred on March 18th. We will provide updated information regarding the investigation once it is available. pic.twitter.com/2dVP72TziQ


March 21, 2018

The 14-second video inside the car showed the operator, identified by police as Rafaela Vasquez, 44, appearing to look at something inside the vehicle and not at the road at the time of the collision. She alternated between looking down and looking forward and appeared shocked at the last minute just as the car failed to stop.

Uber typically refers to its operators in the front of the autonomous cars as “safety drivers” who can intervene and take control of the car, but generally let the vehicles run in autonomous mode. The cars rely on radar sensors that are meant to detect pedestrians, cyclists, cars and other obstacles.

It’s unclear what went wrong in this case. It was around 10pm at the time of the crash, and the video showed the woman appearing in view a second or so before the collision. She was not walking in a crosswalk when the car hit her, though Herzberg’s loved ones and some autonomous driving experts have argued that the technology still should have detected her.

Local prosecutors will decide whether criminal charges are warranted. Some have argued that under new rules issued by Arizona’s governor, a strong proponent of the technology, a company like Uber could possibly be criminally liable if an autonomous car negligently killed someone. But police chief Sylvia Moir suggested in an interview that she believed Uber wasn’t at fault.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said White, who said she was shocked to learn that an autonomous car had killed Herzberg, who she had known for more than 20 years. “I can’t believe that the [driver] that was in the car did not see her.”

Companies manufacturing the technology have argued that self-driving cars are safer than humans, but skeptics have pointed out that the industry is entering a dangerous phase while the cars aren’t yet fully autonomous, but human operators aren’t fully engaged.

White said she didn’t know whether Herzberg’s immediate family might pursue a civil case: “Ain’t no amount of money in the world going to bring her back.”

Uber, which did not respond to inquiries about the videos, has temporarily suspended its self-driving program, but has not commented on what caused the crash.

White said she didn’t believe the cars should be allowed to return: “This might be the first, but I’ll you what, there will be more.”





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