Footage released by Arizona police of the Uber autonomous vehicle crash that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herberg has raised fresh concern over the failure of the car to react to the pedestrian in the road.
The 14-second video shows two views, one external facing forwards and one internal, showing the Uber operator who police have identified as 44-year-old Rafaela Velasquez.
As the Volvo test car drives down a dark road, Herberg suddenly appears in the car’s headlights and the video pauses before she is fatally struck. The victim’s stepdaughter, Tina Marie Herzberg White, told the Guardian that there should be a criminal case brought forward.
Warning: The footage could be distressing to watch
Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir gave an interview to a San Francisco newspaper earlier this week and said that the initial evidence showed that the Uber wasn't at fault, but robotics expert Ryan Calo from Stanford University said on Twitter that the video footage raises questions of why the car's tech systems didn't pick the woman up.
'I watched the video of the driverless car collide with Ms Herzberg and I simply disagree that it absolves Uber,' he explained. 'She had already crossed half of the street. Why didn't lidar pick her up? If Arizona police conclude no fault just from this video, it may be due to a lack of understanding of driverless cars plus automation bias.'
Uber has suspended its self-driving test programme and issued a statement on Wednesday which said: ‘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.’
Details are still sketchy, not helped by the apparent confusion of local police. The self-driving Volvo test vehicle was heading north on North Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona having just crossed a bridge over the Salt River.
Police apparently said the car was travelling 38mph in a 35mph zone, but signage on the road indicates that the Volvo was in an area marked with a 45mph speed limit.
The human safety driver, Rafaela Velasquez, was on hand to ensure that the car remained safe, but appeared distracted in the video clip released by the police.
Herberg was struck by the car, which made no apparent attempt to slow down or change course, while crossing the road with her bicycle.
Self-driving cars like Uber’s Volvo XC90 SUV are equipped with roof-mounted lidar systems which use laser beams to generate a 360-degree impression of the car’s surroundings. Such a system would be expected to detect obstacles hundreds of metres away, even in the dark.
Radar systems are used to detect obstacles closer to the car, such as other vehicles on the road, in order to maintain a safe distance in traffic.
The police investigation will want to establish what went wrong with the technology in the car and why Velasquez was not in a position to respond quickly to an emerging incident.