Uber’s self-driving vehicle crashed into Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year-old Arizona resident, on March 18. The accident left many industry experts and news outlets questioning how the accident occurred. Lawmakers also came under scrutiny for allowing self-driving vehicles on the roadway despite the technology not yet being perfected.
The Information is breaking the news that Uber’s vehicle was able to detect the woman, but the system decided not to react. Fault, according to initial reports, is on the self-driving vehicle, which has its software tuned down to ignore objects on the road.
Uber’s software was purposely tuned down to ignore certain objects in the road, such as a piece of cardboard, which poses no threat to the vehicle. Over-tuning led to the vehicle’s decision that it didn’t need to react to Herzberg on her bicycle.
Uber has declined to provide specifics or comments on the potential over-tuning of their software.
False positives are common in autonomous vehicles that must take in information on the road, such as a piece of cardboard, which the vehicle could safely go over. The vehicle may also take in a visual of a trash can in the road, analyze the object and determine that the vehicle must react promptly to avoid damaging the vehicle.
The reports of the vehicle ignoring Herzberg have yet to be verified.
Uber, known as a ride-sharing company, has faced challenges with its autonomous vehicles in recent months. The company once had two safety drivers in the vehicle, but they reduced the number of safety drivers to just one in October. If the software decided to ignore the victim, there are still questions as to why the safety driver failed to react to the situation.
The company also reduced the number of sensors on the vehicle from seven to one. Uber is using LIDAR’s sensor on the vehicle’s roof.
Google’s autonomous van, under the company’s Waymo subsidiary, also crashed recently, but investigators claim that the vehicle was not at-fault.
Autonomous vehicles also pose a rising concern for insurance companies, according to billionaire investor Warren Buffett. The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway claims that he is unsure of when driverless cars will be on the road, but he is positive that the vehicles will impact the insurance industry.
“Driverless cars will reduce — perhaps dramatically — the need for auto insurance if they’re safer,” states Buffett. “If driverless cars are successful and people don’t hack into ’em, that will reduce auto insurance premiums — and perhaps drastically reduce them.”
Buffett, who owns Geico, claims that autonomous cars aren’t bad for auto insurance companies. He claims that premiums will be lower, perhaps drastically, but also claims that payouts will also be much lower.
He claims he believes that driverless vehicles are a long time off, but reaffirms that the insurance industry will remain fairly flexible.
Buffett says that over the long-term, autonomous vehicles will be very bad for the auto industry. “It’s very hard to tell who the winner will be,” he exclaimed when discussing autonomous vehicles. The billionaire discussed his business at the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate shareholder meeting over the weekend.