Following the fatal accident involving the self-driving Uber vehicle, investigations have uncovered serious flaws in Uber’s operational management. New information is coming to light that shows the company scaled back on safety sensors in the self-driving motor vehicle.
One woman was killed in the accident earlier this month in Tempe, Arizona. Evidence has been brought to light that shows Uber made extensive changes to their automated motorcade and not for the better.
Uber made a decision in 2016 to switch the self-driving vehicles from the Ford Fusion to a Volvo XC90 SUV. Along with the decision to switch to the Swedish manufacturer, Uber chose to reduce the number and type of sensors to be included on autonomous vehicles.
The safety sensors used to detect objects on the road did not make the final cut for the smart livery vehicles. The new line of Volvos had more blind spots and failed to detect larger occurrences than the Ford models.
Five former employees and four industry experts have come forward since the tragic event to express concerns about the business practices conducted by the company. The taxi service knowingly increased the risk for their transportation system.
By lowering their technical standards to levels below competitors and earlier models, Uber was able to undercut the market value and inflate their stock price. While using the results from the safer Ford Fusion, Uber was able to defraud the people of Arizona.
Lidar is the leading technology currently used in self-driving cars. Using light pulses to detect hazards on the road, the sensors act as eyes for the self-driving car.
The new Uber driverless vehicles used only one sensor mounted on the roof. The previous model Uber tested showcased seven lidar sensors around the vehicle.
Experts have indicated the single sensor approach cannot detect a small perimeter around the vehicle. Unable to sense pedestrians that are close to the vehicle, Uber left the cars blind with a nine-foot perimeter.
The Lidar system is able to detect objects in a 360-degree field of vision. The Lidar is unable to detect objects low to the ground, however.
Google’s sister company Waymo uses a series of six lidar sensors on their fleet of automated vehicles. General Motors uses five sensors on their driverless cars.
Multiple companies have expressed the need for lidar systems mounted on the side of the vehicle to ensure that pedestrians are seen, especially at night.
In response to the death of Elaine Herzberg, Uber has put a pause on all driverless testing in the state of Arizona. Investigations into the exact nature of the failure are still ongoing.
Previous employees of Uber have revealed the cause is most likely from the reduced number of sensors used by the new models.
The older Ford models used seven lidars, 10 radars, and 20 cameras. The new Volvo model decreased the sensors to only one lidar, 10 radars, and seven cameras.
In a hurry to play catch up in the field of automated driving, Uber has used underhanded techniques to compete with companies like Waymo who have been developing the technology for a decade.
Uber was hoping that radar would compensate for the blind spot created by the lack of lidar. Herzberg had crossed almost four lanes on a well-lit and clear night.
The Ford model which saw extensive testing is smaller and more compact than the larger SUV. The single lidar detector was unable to detect objects under three feet from the ground.
Former employees have admitted the Volvo model was unable to detect lowered tailgates and the back ends of trucks. One employee described an incident where a test was concluded after the vehicle almost collided with the lowered back end of a delivery truck going 35 miles per hour.
Owned by China’s Geely, the Volvo Car Group made assurances the accident was not caused by the vehicles being used.
Eager to make sure that all facets are explored, other experts have indicated the software within the vehicle could have been the reason for the accident.
Whatever the cause of the fatality may turn out to be, it is clear that Uber has forgone the established standards of public safety in order to create a cheaper flashier product. Despite the warnings of former employees, Uber continued their faulty program.