Sensor firm Velodyne ‘baffled’ by Uber self-driving death

The firm that designed the sensors on the Uber self-driving car that killed a woman this week has said its technology was not to blame.

San Jose-based Velodyne told the BBC it was “baffled” by the incident, adding its equipment was capable of seeing in the dark.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, was struck by the car late on Sunday night in Tempe, Arizona. She died in hospital.

The investigation into what caused her death is ongoing.

Video of the incident was published by investigators earlier on Wednesday. It showed Ms Herzberg walking with her bicycle, away from a pedestrian crossing. Neither the car – nor its human driver – reacted.

A spokeswoman for Uber told the BBC it would not comment on Velodyne’s view while the inquiry took place.

‘Can see perfectly well’

Velodyne’s Lidar sensors are used by a number of companies testing self-driving cars on public roads today.

Lidar is a type of radar that essentially gives the car the ability to “see” what is around it.

Velodyne Lidar president Marta Hall told the BBC it would not be advising its customers to halt tests in the wake of the Arizona death because “we do not believe the accident was due to Lidar”.

Instead, the company is pointing to Uber’s on-board computer as potentially being to blame, Ms Hall said.

“Our Lidar can see perfectly well in the dark, as well as it sees in daylight, producing millions of points of information.

“However, it is up to the rest of the system to interpret and use the data to make decisions. We do not know how the Uber system of decision-making works.”

Software accusation

While it makes use of third-party hardware, Uber’s self-driving cars use software developed in house.

Uber has suspended its self-driving programme – which was taking place in four US cities – until it knows more about what happened.

The firm’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said of the incident: “We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened.”

Velodyne said it had not been in contact with Uber about the incident, but was in the process of preparing to speak to investigators.

The National Traffic Safety Board said it was working on a preliminary report to be published within the next few weeks – a fuller conclusion will not be made for several months.

Ms Hall added: “We are very sad, sorry, and worried for the future of a project which is intended to save lives.”

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Uber self-driving crash: Footage shows moment before impact

Police have released two videos showing the moments leading up to a fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber car in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday.

In the 14-second video, the autonomous vehicle is seen failing to slow down before hitting Elaine Herzberg, 49, who is walking her bike across the road.

One video shows dashcam footage of the impact. The other, an Uber operator monitoring the car’s controls.

Uber has suspended self-driving tests in North America following the crash.

In footage released on Wednesday by the Tempe police department, the human Uber operator sitting inside the Volvo appears to be looking down at something while the vehicle is travelling in autonomous mode.

Moments later, the woman appears visibly shocked as she looks up to see Ms Herzberg crossing the highway in their path seconds before impact.

“The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” Uber said in a statement.

“Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can,” the statement added.

Police said the accident happened on Sunday night, adding that Ms Herzberg had not been using a pedestrian crossing.

Ms Herzberg was taken to a local hospital following the collision but died of her injuries.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board earlier said they would be investigating the incident in Tempe.

While self-driving cars have been involved in multiple accidents, it is thought to be the first time an autonomous car has been involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian.