Raises questions over public safety and self-driver testing

A pedestrian was struck and killed in Tempe, Arizona, by a self-driving car over the weekend, according to a report from the The New York Times. The incident occurred this past Sunday at 10 pm local time and involved an Uber-branded vehicle traveling in autonomous mode with a human safety pilot in the driver’s seat. Neither the system nor the human driver were unable to avoid the collision. The pedestrian involved was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk when she was struck by the vehicle.

This is the first known case of a pedestrian killed by a self-driving vehicle.

In response, Uber has suspended its public self-driving testing, including programs in Tempe, San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” Uber said in a statement.

The incident follows a high-profile fatality back in 2016, when Joshua Brown was killed in a collision while operating his Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode. The system failed to recognize an 18-wheeler crossing the highway when the sedan passed under the trailer at highway speeds.

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Unfortunately, a story like this has been in the making for years now. While autonomous vehicle tech promises to eventually make travel by car safer, it is still very much in development. Couple the new tech with high demand and widespread competition to be the first to bring it to market, not to mention the unpredictable nature of human actions and the real world, and the inevitability of tragedies like this is all but insured.

That said, all the details on this story are still quite hazy, and it’s quite possible that the self-driving technology played no part in causing the collision.

Regardless, the story will undoubtedly grab headlines and inject a quick shot of fear into the public over self-driving technology. Whether or not it will affect regulations or the public’s demand for self-driving vehicles in any way remains to be seen.

For now, self-driving tech developers will continue to ramp up testing. California, for example, is currently introducing self-driver tests without the need for a human safety pilot. Arizona currently already allows such tests.

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Source: NY Times

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