Tesla ‘removed’ from fatal car crash probe

Tesla has been removed from the investigation into the fatal crash of one of its semi-autonomous vehicles.

In March, a Tesla vehicle operating in Autopilot mode crashed in California, killing the driver. Tesla has suggested the driver was at fault.

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tesla had “violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information”.

Tesla says it decided to remove itself from the investigation.

Autopilot

Tesla’s Autopilot is a semi-autonomous mode in which the car controls its own steering and speed.

The company has always stressed that drivers must pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the steering wheel.

On 23 March, a Tesla vehicle crashed into a roadside barrier in California, killing 38-year-old Walter Huang.

Tesla said the vehicle was in Autopilot mode at the time of the crash.

“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive,” it said in a statement.

“The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so.”

Disservice

The NTSB has accused Tesla of releasing “incomplete information”.

It said such statements “often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process”.

Robert Sumwalt, NTSB chairman, said: “We decided to revoke Tesla’s party status and informed Mr [Elon] Musk in a phone call and via letter.

“While we understand the demand for information that parties face during an NTSB investigation, uncoordinated releases of incomplete information do not further transportation safety or serve the public interest.”

Tesla said it had decided to remove itself from the investigation.

The company has accused the NTSB of breaching its own rules by releasing statements about the crash, despite telling Tesla not to do so.

“We don’t believe this is right and we will be making an official complaint to Congress,” a spokesperson told the BBC.

Tesla added: “Last week, in a conversation with the NTSB, we were told that if we made additional statements before their 12-24 month investigative process is complete, we would no longer be a party to the investigation agreement.

“On Tuesday, we chose to withdraw from the agreement and issued a statement to correct misleading claims that had been made about Autopilot.”

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.

Uber halts self-driving car tests after death

Uber said it is suspending self-driving car tests in all North American cities after a fatal accident.

A 49-year-old woman was hit by a car and killed as she crossed the street in Tempe, Arizona.

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.

Uber said that its “hearts go out to the victim’s family”.

“We’re fully cooperating with @TempePolice and local authorities as they investigate this incident”, the company said in a statement on Twitter.

Police said the accident happened Sunday night while the car was in autonomous mode. A human monitor was also behind the wheel.

Police said the woman, Elaine Herzberg, had not been using a pedestrian crossing. Herzberg was taken to a local hospital where she died.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board said they were sending teams to Tempe.

‘Wake up call’

Companies including Ford, General Motors, Tesla and Waymo are investing heavily in research to develop self-driving cars, which are often characterised as the future of the industry and hailed as a way to reduce traffic accidents.

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    Many states across America have welcomed the tests in the hope of keeping themselves at the forefront of new technology.

    However, there have been warnings that the technology is being deployed before it is ready.

    Anthony Foxx, who served as US Secretary of Transportation under former President Barack Obama, called the accident a “wake up call to the entire [autonomous vehicle] industry and government to put a high priority on safety.”

    More than a dozen states in the US allow autonomous vehicles on the roads to some degree. Officials typically require a person to be on hand either in the car or remotely in case something goes wrong, according to the Center for Automotive Research.

    The US is working on national safety guidelines for such vehicles.

    Consumer Watchdog, a lobby group that has warned of the risks of autonomous cars, on Monday called for a moratorium of such vehicles on public roads, describing the accident as a “tragedy we have been fighting years to prevent”.

    “We hope our calls for real regulation of driverless cars will be taken seriously going forward by Silicon Valley and the Trump Administration,” the group wrote on Twitter.

    Uber started testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh in 2016. The ride-hailing firm has also been testing driverless cars in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Toronto and the Phoenix area, which includes Tempe.

    The death comes a year after Uber took its self-driving cars off the road following an accident that left a Volvo SUV on its side in Arizona. The programme was later reinstated.

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      Carla Bailo, president and chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research, said more information about how the crash occurred is necessary before officials can say what went wrong and how the self-driving system should be improved.

      She also said the fatality should be considered in the context of all accidents.

      More than 37,000 people, including almost 6,000 pedestrians, died in traffic accidents in the US in 2016, according to the US Department of Transportation.

      “We need to be fair and look at all the data,” she said. “But I don’t think anybody is taking this lightly. By far safety is the first concern.

      Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said he supports autonomous car tests because of the technology’s potential. He also praised Uber’s decision to suspend the programme as “responsible”.

      “Our city leadership and Tempe Police will pursue any and all answers to what happened in order to ensure safety moving forward,” he said.