Uber test driver in self-driving car in fatality accident was streaming Hulu

Last March an Uber self-driving car undergoing testing in Tempe Arizona struck and killed a pedestrian.  Previously we had been told the “test driver” in the Uber autonomous car was monitoring output from the on-board monitoring system.  Video of the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, shows that she was inattentive, spending most of her time looking intently at something near her waist-level rather than watching the road, until a second before the collision. According to a Reuters report on Thursday, the “test driver” in that autonomous car was streaming a TV program from Hulu on her smart phone, rather than tracking the on-board monitoring system.

Because the vehicle was part of Uber’s R&D testing fleet, it had lots of on-board instrumentation including cameras recording various views from the vehicle, as well as a video recording the test driver.  According to a preliminary NTSB report released in late May, the job of the test driver was monitoring both the road ahead (to take over in case of necessity) and the data being reported from the Uber self-driving software.  That report also says that cell phones owned by the test driver were not in use during the test drive.

As you can see in the video below, the test driver was spending most of her time gazing at something at waist-level rather than observing the road, until it was too late.  Going by the NTSB report one would think the something the test driver was watching is the on-board monitoring system.  According to the NTSB preliminary report, the on-board systems was detecting something on the road 6 seconds before the collision, and had gone through several possible identifications.  If the test driver had been monitoring on-board information, surely it would have shown that object and the test driver would have reacted earlier.

A police report obtained by Reuters described it as an “entirely avoidable” incident.  According to the police report, the driver’s cell phone was in use, and that police had obtained records from Hulu showing that the cell phone had been streaming an episode of “The Voice” up until almost exactly the time of the collision.

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The on-board video showed the test driver was inattentive for 7 of the 22 minutes of that test drive, that in all moments of inattentiveness she was observing a thing at her waist-level, and that occasionally she would smirk as if laughing.  Which to me sounds consistent with someone watching a TV show.

Another detail in the police report is something I expected – that the victim, Elaine Herzberg, age 49, was homeless.  The vicinity does not have any residences, so what was she doing at that location at that time?  She was probably looking for an out-of-the-way location to bed down for the night.

The police report did find that Ms. Herzberg was “unlawfully crossing the road at a location other than a marked crosswalk.”  This is a very good point, while the test driver was derelict in her duty by being inattentive, the pedestrian was derelict in her duty to operate her self safely on the road.

With my iPhone – an Apple iPhone 6 – recently there is a new behavior while driving.  If I’ve just stopped, and pull out the cell phone, the screen shows a notification that is asking me to verify that I am not driving a car.  If I were to be driving a car, the iPhone tries its best to make sure I do not use the screen.  This strikes me as very good behavior, AND that if Ms. Vasquez’s cell phone had asked her such a question and had enforced the “do-not-use-cell-phone-while-driving” rule, then this incident could have been avoided.

Previous reporting:

 

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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