An Uber self-driving car killed a 49-year old woman back in March. Elain Herzberg of Tempe, Arizona, died after her self-driving cab failed to do an emergency stop. After a US federal investigation, it was found that car did not stop because the system put in place to carry out unplanned stops in dangerous situations was disabled.
So, how do these self-driving Ubers actually work?
Here’s how: the cars are hooked up with a GPS unit. They’re equipped with a range of sensors such as radar, video and laser rangefinders, as well as a GPS-type system. All these work together to help the car know of its surroundings. This is in order to drive without the need for human help.
Radar stands for Radio Detection and Ranging. In basic terms, it’s the transmission of radio waves into a direction and the detection of the reflected waves or echoes, from objects in the area. These waves are produced by an antenna where electrons are always moving up and down via an alternating currant. They are boomed in pulses and the time taken for the pulse to return gives an indicator into how far the that object is. Easy, right?
We could go more in depth, but we’ll stop there.
About the Uber accident
The car’s emergency braking maneuvers were disabled while the car was being controlled by a computer, as stated by the National Transportation Safety Board. The sensors on the Volvo XC90 SUV spotted the woman, but due to the disabled brakes, the car wasn’t able to stop. Oh yeah, this also means that the human driver in the car was not warned. The car was travelling at 43 miles per hour and needed to break 1.3 seconds before impact.
Since, the company has suspended all tests to their self-driving cars in various cities, including Toronto, Tempe, and San Francisco. A spokesperson for Arizona governor, Doug Ducey says, “We await the more thorough and final investigative report. Uber’s self-driving vehicle suspension remains in place.”
Yellow cabs are safest, study finds
Fun fact. The brighter the cab is, the safer it is to get a ride from. It’s just the obvious. Yellow cabs stand out like a sore thumb. This is why it’s easier for the other drivers on the road to spot them. The yellow cab has been around since 1907, when the Chicago Yellow Cab Company chose the colour based on a survey that revealed yellow was the most noticeable colour. Back in 1907, when all other cars were black, it was easier for potential passengers to spot the yellow cab.
Uber is looking for “uncharacteristic user activity”
In other Uber news, it was reported last week that Uber is working on a way to spot drunk passengers and not giving them a lift.
The app is working on a new technology and at first read, it might sound like it’s too much information. It will let the Uber driver know your location, how accurately you’re typing and even the angle at which you’re holding your phone. If this works, it will help drivers that do not want to pick up drunk riders.
But this could be a downfall and be dangerous for disillusioned customers. Critics are saying it could help shady Uber drivers find vulnerable passengers. According to the application to the US patent office, the new technology would spot “uncharacteristic user activity.”
But wait. Uber does not have the best record when it comes to collecting data.
Remember 2014? First, Uber was using “God View” – a program that monitors real-time locations of customers and drivers. Second, the data breach that exposed information of about 100,00 drivers. The company was forced to introduce tougher measures to protect the privacy of drivers and clients. Just last year, Uber founder, Travis Kalanick resigned over allegations of sexual harassment.
But that was then. This is now, and maybe Uber has all its cars in a row. In a statement, the company said, “We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers… We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”