Deadly accident with Robotaxi from Uber raises doubts about safety.
A fatal accident has reignited the debate on the safety of autonomous cars: for the first time a female pedestrian in an accident with a self-driving vehicle of the US carrier service Uber was killed. Whether the tragic accident in the US slows down the development of new technology, but is questionable.
Uber temporarily stopped test drives
Uber temporarily halted the operation of all autonomous vehicles for tests or customer trips – at least in the cities of Tempe, Pittsburgh, Toronto and San Francisco. The Japanese carmaker Toyota also stopped its tests on self-driving cars after the accident.
The German carmaker BMW announced, however, to continue its projects. Google’s sister company Waymo even announced two days after the fatal accident that they wanted to work with Jaguar to develop a “premium” self-propelled electric car.
“For every purpose and every journey”
As his “ultimate goal,” Waymo described in an online post the development of products for every purpose and every journey. Autonomous vehicles could therefore serve to start working while commuting to work, or to take the car after a night of celebration. Also sleep should be possible while driving.
Waymo boss John Krafcik was of the opinion that such an accident as the Uber-car would not have happened with the technology of his company. He has “great faith in that,” he said recently at a conference in Las Vegas. Over the past nearly ten years, Waymo vehicles have traveled more than eight million kilometers on routes that pedestrians use without causing a fatal accident.
Outside the industry, on the other hand, more critical voices were heard. The nonprofit consumer organization Consumer Watchdog was alarmed: Self-driving cars are not ready for the roads, the public should not be endangered in their opinion for the tests.
Democratic US Senator Richard Blumenthal emphasized that the Uber accident showed “that the technology of autonomous cars has a long way to go before it is really safe for passengers, pedestrians and drivers.” The Governor of the US State of Arizona, where the accident happened, stopped there further tests of the Uber program for autonomous driving. The video of the accident was too “disturbing and alarming,” he wrote in a letter to Uber.
Progress can hardly be stopped
However, the development can not be stopped, as Adie Tomer of the think tank Brookings Institution says. “There will certainly be calls to stop all self-driving tests, not just Uber’s,” he writes in a post on the institution’s website. “But technical progress can hardly be stopped – and in this case, I do not expect that.”
The Uber accident was not the first in connection with self-driving cars that ended fatally. In 2016, a Tesla driver died in the US state of Florida after the “autopilot” of his Model S could not detect a cruising tractor-trailer in front of the blue sky. However, an investigation by the US Department of Transportation concluded that the accident was not a technical failure, but “a number of human factors” played a role.