A self-driving Uber car in Arizona hit and killed a woman crossing the street. This marks the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle and could possibly be a blow to the technology that is expected to transform transportation.
Automation and technological enhancements have been labeled as the primary reason for future unemployment. This is because robots and automation will be able to do the jobs that were previously performed by human beings. Developing nations that have a growing labor force are expected to face a substantial challenge in the years ahead. According to a study conducted by PeopleStrong, nearly a quarter of people in India will lose their jobs to automation by 2021.
Research on driverless self-directed cars has been carried out since the 1920s. However, it was only recently that it has been considered as a viable option in transportation. Since 2010, major car manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Volvo have been testing self-driving cars on the roads. In 2012, the Google driverless car project announced that its test fleet had already completed 480,000 km with no accidents.
In 2016, the Self Driving Car Coalition was started by companies in the industry. Members of this coalition include Google, Ford Motors, and Uber. The goal of the partnership is to push for federal action from the government to get self-driving cars in the market.
The robot cars, when fully developed by companies including Uber, Google, and General Motors Co, are expected to considerably reduce motor vehicle fatalities and create billion-dollar businesses. However, Monday’s accident highlighted potential challenges existing for the technology as the cars encounter real-world situations involving real people. Uber, a ride services company, said it was suspending North American tests of its self-driving vehicles, which are currently going on in Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.
US lawmakers have been debating legislation that would speed up the introduction of self-driving cars. “This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” stated Democratic Senator Edward Markey, a member of the transportation committee.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking with her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road at about 10 p.m. in Tempe, Phoenix, when she was hit by the Uber vehicle, according to local police. The vehicle was a Volvo XC90 SUV and was traveling at about 40 miles per hour (65 km per hour) in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel. Herzberg later died from her injuries in a hospital.
“The pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk. As soon as she walked into the lane of traffic she was struck,” Tempe Police Sergeant Ronald Elcock stated. It was not clear how close Herzberg was to the vehicle when she stepped into the lane.
After reviewing footage from the vehicle, the Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.” Moir continued, “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” but she did not rule out that charges could be filed against the operator in the Uber vehicle.
Local authorities and federal officials are still investigating the incident. Canada’s transportation ministry in Ontario, where Uber conducts testing, also said it was reviewing the accident.
Our assessment is that companies like Ford, General Motors, Tesla, and Waymo are investing heavily in research to develop self-driving cars. They are often characterized as the future of the industry and seen as a method to reduce traffic accidents. Driverless cars also promise far greater mobility for the elderly, and people with disabilities. Although this fatality is a temporary setback for the self-driving car industry, we believe it is not expected to have a widespread negative impact on technological advancements.
Read more: The future of self-driving cars