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Police Report Untangles Uber Crash Mystery

3/30/2017 06:21 PM EDT
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sw guy
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Suggestions...
sw guy   3/31/2017 7:19:40 AM
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...for people to think

Could it be possible that by moving very slow the left turning vehicule was detected as stationary by autonomous car ?

Was SW/HW still operational after 1st hit, or did something broken prevent it to control autonomous  car ?

junko.yoshida
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Re: Suggestions...
junko.yoshida   3/31/2017 9:20:34 AM
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@sw guy, these are all really good questions. we need to learn more from Uber, who should have that information.

tech4cars
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Other alternatives
tech4cars   3/31/2017 1:37:08 PM
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Junko:

As always, great and thought provoking reporting!

As an auto electronics forensic consultant/investigator, and a part time performance driving instructor, I suggest there are various actions the Uber Volvo might have taken in such cirumstances that would have had a better outcome.  I say this with the qualifier that I only have knowledge of the information presented in your article and other as yet undisclosed facts may be relevant.

The "convservative" driving solution, would be to recognize dangerous traffic (stopped vehicles in other lanes) and reduce speed approaching the intersection and proceed with great caution (accepting more surrounding images, or range of vision, for example).  However, there is also another well-known accident avoidance maneuver (that requires greater driving skill) that perhaps could have been applied here.  And, that is, upon recognizing a hazard moving into your path that you might avoid, briefly release the throttle, make a steering maneuver to avoid contact (in this case to the right and then left), and then get back on the throttle to balance the car and avoid loss of traction and spinning.  Then, once clear, brake in a straight line to reduce speed and continue through the intersection.   Such an avoidance maneuver or exercise is regularly taught in nearly all performance driving schools I am aware of. 

It would be interesting to discover if certain autonomous vehicle driving algorthims also include such maneuvers as an option.

Myles Kitchen 

 

SteveS
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Re: Other alternatives
SteveS   3/31/2017 2:22:07 PM
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To Tech4cars-

Only problem is that 99.9% (did I leave out a 9 or two?) of the drivers out there have not had the benefit of a performance driving class.  Their reaction in such situations would most like be stomp on the brakes and hold tight to the steering wheel.

tech4cars
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Re: Other alternatives
tech4cars   3/31/2017 6:21:19 PM
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SteveS

 

My point being, the Autonomous driving algorithm can handle that maneuver if programmed to do so.  Obviously, in this case it does not appear it had any alternative accident avoidance routine(s) enabled.

MK 

 

 

MarkSinger
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Re: Other alternatives
MarkSinger   3/31/2017 6:50:40 PM
For all of the commentary on "typical driver" or "responsible driver" or "conservative driver" we neglect to recognize the critical issue of the learning curve.

Today, when you drive around on public roads, you endure the risk that EVERY driver in EVERY vehicle on that road must progress through a learning curve to reach the level of being a "typical" or "responsible" driver. Having taught my four children to drive, and having endured riding with them frequently during the first year (and less frequently during subsequent years) of their driving, and having of course endured my own learning curve as I learned to drive, I can hardly resist raising this point.

Come on folks -- 'fess up. You KNOW how many bad decisions new drivers make on the road. You see it frequently. Even if they will grow and mature to become very capable drivers in time, when any of us first start we are VERY POOR at anticipating, at recognizing risk scenarios, at reacting appropriately to unfamiliar and sudden variances.  The statistics bear out the disproportionate share of traffic accidents caused by inexperienced/new drivers.

So before we all jump up and down about how an autonomous vehicle might be at fault, or might have done better (even if not at fault), recognize that whatever the learning curve is, it need only be endured ONE time before it can be applied to that company's entire fleet of vehicles. One accident, and every autonomous "driver" from Uber (or whichever other autonomous car maker), now and for untold years into the future, learns from it??? Did that EVER happen when a teen driver got hit making a left turn at the wrong moment?

Now we are just getting the basics figured out, with small fleets of autonomous vehicles operating under experimental licenses. Still as they progress up the learning curve, every furture vehicle in the fleet will reflect the learning from these test experiences. As autonomous vehicles deploy more widely, we'll see thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions of daily experiences forming the base on which all other cars in that provider's fleet will learn.

The question isn't whether autonomous cars are perfect. They aren't. There will be accidents.  But what is a better scenario, a renewable crop of millions of new drivers on the road each year, all making the same rooky errors, every year, forever; or a one-time crop of a few thousand test vehicles on the road, each making rooky errors, once, that may well never be repeated ever again.

That's the larger context in which events like this should be seen.

Greg504
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Re: Other alternatives
Greg504   3/31/2017 8:07:35 PM
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While I do expect them to figure it out I don't expect anticipating what humans will do wrong while driving as well as humans do to be easy. Needless to say automated cars will have to coexist with human drivers for many years.

prathfel
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Re: Delta Speed
prathfel   3/31/2017 1:38:13 PM
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The Uber car needs to have a "Delta Speed" safety routine.  If I am driving down a road and am going more than 10 mph faster than the traffic to a lane to my left (or sometimes to my right) I slow down.  Yes the Uber car was not at fault.  But a "Delta Speed" routine would have greatly lessoned the crash effects.

pete220
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Left turn on yellow beware
pete220   3/31/2017 11:45:04 AM
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It is customary in the US for one or two left turners to try to squeeze through an intersection after the light turns yellow.  This move is especially dangerous when not all lanes are seen to be stopped.  If there is a lane open it is likely that the driver going strait will also try to squeeze through on the yellow light. 

I have seen this accident scenario with all human drivers.  In that case, the driver proceeding strait actually accellerated to get through the intersection.  The left turner was badly injured and the car going strait proceeded to slam into several other stopped cars, causing injuries there too.

With self driving cars on the road we may have arrived at a point where squeezing a left on yellow is a bad strategy.

  Pete

 

 

junko.yoshida
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Re: Left turn on yellow beware
junko.yoshida   3/31/2017 12:11:45 PM
Hi, pete220. you also raise some good questions here. Just to be clear, though, in this particular crash, it wasn't the left-turning Honda CRV that was hurrying to squeeze itself into the intersection, but it was Uber driving straight south which sort of acted recklessly and did not pay attention to the Honda which was already in the intersection.

lindalarson
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Re: Left turn on yellow beware
lindalarson   3/31/2017 12:55:27 PM
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What else I would have liked to have learned from the police report was the state of traffic in the McClintok southbound east lane, south of Don Carlos.  With the center and left bound McClintok lanes already stalled, possible rush hour traffic, and sun conditions at dusk, curious that travelling 38mph thru an intersection may have resulted in a rear ending in stalled conditions of a vehicle already at rest or a quick lane change into an open lane.

 

 

SteveS
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Uber Crash
SteveS   3/31/2017 12:35:40 PM
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Whether or not the Uber vehicle could have or should have slowed down is not the point.  Case law holds, as has been pointed out, that a left turning vehicle in this situation is in the inferior position and is liable for the accident.  The driver of the Honda stated that her line of vision was blocked by the stalled lanes of traffic, yet she proceeded through the intersection anyway.  If this comes down to court proceedings, I know which side I would want to represent.

The situation may be different if the Uber vehicle had been grossly speeding, but since it has been stated that the Uber vehicle was traveling slower than the posted speed limit, the Uber vehicle is pretty much off the hook.

Greg504
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Re: Uber Crash
Greg504   3/31/2017 12:54:17 PM
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It is not a question whether the human driver is at fault.  She is.  The question is did the Uber software perform better or worse than a typical human.  A typical human would not have gone through the intersection at that speed.  A typical human would be wondering if someone is going to try to slip through.  A typical human would also be watching to see if anybody in the adjacent lane is going to try to move into your lane so they can start moving again.

SteveS
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Re: Uber Crash
SteveS   3/31/2017 1:18:55 PM
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"A typical human would not have gone through the intersection at that speed.".  Maybe, maybe not.  You might not have, but someone else might not.  What is "typical" in this case?

"A typical human would be wondering if someone is going to try to slip through".  Again maybe, maybe not.  What if that "typical" human was on their hands-free cell phone?

"A typical human would also be watching to see if anybody in the adjacent lane is going to try to move into your lane so they can start moving again."  Yes, but that doesn't mean I would slow down to a crawl, just in case someone decided to pull out.  This is not much different than approaching an intersection for which the cross-street has a stop sign. There is a presumption that the driver approaching the stop is going to stop - that is, obey the law.  The driver on the main street is under obligation to slow down at every such intersection just in case the vehicle with the stop sign decides not to stop.

Greg504
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Re: Uber Crash
Greg504   3/31/2017 1:31:53 PM
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I would still contend that most humans know that other humans do not always do what they should.  It doesn't help if you are dead, that they can put on your tombstone that the other person was at fault, you are still dead.  I drive and most people I know drive remain on guard for drivers not doing what they should.  When at a stop sign I notice if the other person approaching is slowing or not.  I may hold up a few seconds until I know they are going to stop.  As I was taught in drivers ed this is called defensive driving.

photonicsjd
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Re: Uber Crash
photonicsjd   3/31/2017 2:41:31 PM
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How about we change "typical human" to "reasonably prudent man/person/driver", which is, after all, the proper legal analysis?  Then we can get rid of the red-herring texting teen example.  The reasonably prudent driver will sniff out a risky situation and act accordingly.  If the robot can't do that, it is - as Junko's analyst properly states - "stupid".

   

junko.yoshida
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Re: Uber Crash
junko.yoshida   3/31/2017 3:08:31 PM
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Thanks, Greg504. That was exactly my point.

GordonScott
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Watch the wheel and the eyes.
GordonScott   3/31/2017 1:30:57 PM
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It's certainly true that this type of accident happens with human drivers, partly because human drivers will sometimes take a rick they should not.

Clearly the Uber car was not maintaining a proper protection zne ahead of it, but then many human drivers also don't.

I'll add a variant scenario to the accident, which is one I see as a risk day after day and for which I feel I often have to address:

The driver of a car coming the from the opposite direction wishes to turn across my carriageway. They approach the junction and see me approaching, so they stop and wait. With their wheels already turned ready for when they cross. But the driver behind them fails to stop, shunts them in the rear and, because of those wheels, pushes that car into my path.  I get really strange looks when I brake when I see the situation arrising. I wonder how well an autonomous car would handle it.

I'm reminded also of a little poem:

Here lies the body of Edward Jay

Who died maintaining his right of way

He was right .. dead right as he drove along

and he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.

 

Mind how you go!

 

Bert22306
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Learned through experience
Bert22306   3/31/2017 4:24:55 PM
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I have often been in exactly this situation, except replace the Honda with a pedestrian crossing in front, having no visibility of oncoming traffic in the curb lane.

Experience teaches you to slow down, even if you have a right turn arrow, because people or vehicles, unable to see you coming, will show up suddenly. Makes NO DIFFERENCE who is right and who is wrong. It will still spoil your whole day.

The algorithm simply needs to be tweaked. No sense getting overly dramatic about this.

junko.yoshida
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Re: Learned through experience
junko.yoshida   3/31/2017 5:53:30 PM
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Thanks, Bert. I see your point. Let's not blow things out of proportion. That said, i think one of the things the engineering community is still grappling with is how we teach machines "to negotiate with the traffic."

You may call it just "tweaking algorithms." But figuring out the right algorithms to negotiate in a dense traffic won't be easy from what I heard from experts.

Bert22306
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Re: Learned through experience
Bert22306   3/31/2017 6:21:34 PM
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True enough, Junko. Looking at just this one specific case, had the Uber car gone slower throught the intersection, e.g. because it sensed the line of traffic to its left and consequent lack of visibility across the entire intersection, then its sensors would have had the time to see the oncoming Honda, and prevent the collision.

So, the autonomous algorithm had all the information it needed to be safer. Had there been full visibility of the intersection, going through at the posted limit would have been fine.

It's going to involve a series of these tweaks, over multiple traffic scenarios, before the algorithms will behave in ways acceptable to most passengers.

But I think this situation was not the same as that one fatality, caused by clearly inadequate vertical resolution of the sensor.

jnissen
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Re: Learned through experience
jnissen   4/3/2017 1:08:15 PM
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Yes the algorithim needs to be tweaked. I'm surprised that the "procced with caution" type of programming was not already in place. You don't maintain the same speed when approaching a busy intersection with lots of stopped traffic - that is insanity.

You have to anticipate that in stopped or nearly stopped traffic that unusual situations will suddenly appear in front of you. Animals in the roadway, people, vehicles perhaps disabled, etc... You don't approach those situations at near posted speeds.

As for the comments stating the UBER did not run the light... Sometimes you can anticipate that a green has been on for an extended period. Experience tells you that it's likely to change soon. Armed with that information plus the fact the intersection is full the UBER clearly shares much of the fault for driving wrecklessly into the intersection while given the circumstances.

Legally allowed vs. what is the right thing to do in this situation is really what were talking about.

 

mira
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Uber Crash
mira   3/31/2017 4:38:19 PM
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Driving 101 : Always slow down at traffic intersection. Zooming through it at near 40 mph is an accident waited to happen which it did. The traffic lights are designed to support turning left when yellow lights are on, not exclusively for the other vehicles to run yellow lights.

SteveS
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Re: Uber Crash
SteveS   3/31/2017 5:22:27 PM
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From the article, "The Uber driver said in his statement that he saw the traffic light change to yellow as his car entered the intersection".

Taking this at face value, the Uber vehicle was not trying to run the yellow light.

I agree with the poster who said let's not blow this out of proportion.  This is a situation where some drivers might have slowed down and proceeded cautiously through the intersection, while others would have just maintained their posted speed.  The Uber vehicle did the later.  From my experience on the roads seeing what happens at intersections when the light turns yellow (or even red, for that matter), so would most other drivers.

Rick_Hille
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Another road rule worth mentioning
Rick_Hille   4/3/2017 5:25:27 PM
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One thing not mentioned is something I encounter every day.  Many cities have rules about not blocking intersections.  In crawling traffic, most drivers will stop or slow before entering an intersection even on green, just in case the line of cars on the other side stalls before the light turns. Stacking onto a stalled lane is not only discourteous, in some places you may get a ticket if the police happen by.  It would be curious to see if the Uber software exhibits this courtesy, or has awareness of any intersection non-blocking rules where it is actual law. The speed at which it entered the intersection despite the stopped left lanes, suggests not.

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