Michigan expert talks about autonomous vehicle safety after deadly Uber crash

Posted at 10:46 PM, Mar 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-20 05:21:49-04

A woman is dead after an autonomous Uber vehicle hit and killed her in Arizona.

According to investigators, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was walking her bike across the street, when the self-driving Uber SUV hit and killed her.  

It happened Sunday night in Tempe, Arizona.

There was a driver behind the wheel at the time. Uber is fully cooperating with Tempe Police and the NTSB is also investigating.

In Michigan, some of the top autonomous vehicle testing happens at Mcity on the campus of the University of Michigan.

Lionel Robert, an associate professor for the School of Information, works on the testing regularly. He said even though there was a driver inside the Uber self-driving SUV at the time, it may have contributed to the crash.

"That hand off has been shown to be a major problem with autonomous driving, it takes time for the vehicle to go from self driving mode to turning over to the actual driver,” said Robert.

Robert said that many times it takes too long for the driver to take control of the autonomous vehicle. He said that is one of the things he and others are working on at Mcity, along with a major contributing factor— cars don’t communicate the way people do.  

"That's a struggle, how can a vehicle go and communicate to you, hey I see you it's safe, you can go or I don't see you it's not safe,” said Robert.

He said the accident in Arizona, while tragic, is not going to slow down the autonomous industry.

Other drivers who spoke with 7 Action News agree, they fully expect to see self-driving vehicles take over the roads. 

"I think you know, regular cars will off the road in 30 years or so,” said driver, Garrett Wilson.

"Moving forward that's where we are going in the future,” said driver, Spencer Alan Rech.

"People get pretty scared about headlines like this when people, humans have accidents all the time and those don't grab headlines like this,” said driver, Benjamin Bergkamp.

Robert said no matter how good self-driving vehicles get, there will always be room for some errors. 

"If the autonomous vehicle does everything right there will still be accidents. And people are still going to die,” said Robert.