Uber’s Self-Driving Car Didn’t Know Pedestrians Could Jaywalk

The National Transportation Safety Board releases hundreds of pages related to the 2018 crash in Tempe, Arizona, that killed Elaine Herzberg.

The software inside the Uber self-driving SUV that killed an Arizona woman last year was not designed to detect pedestrians outside of a crosswalk, according to new documents released as part of a federal investigation into the incident. That’s the most damning revelation in a trove of new documents related to the crash, but other details indicate that, in a variety of ways, Uber’s self-driving tech failed to consider how humans actually operate.

The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent government safety panel that more often probes airplane crashes and large truck incidents, posted documents on Tuesday regarding its 20-month investigation into the Uber crash. The panel will release a final report on the incident in two weeks. More than 40 of the documents, spanning hundreds of pages, dive into the particulars of the March 18, 2016 incident, in which the Uber testing vehicle, with 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez in the driver’s seat, killed a 49-year-old woman named Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a darkened road in the city of Tempe, Arizona. At the time, only one driver monitored the experimental car’s operation and software as it drove around Arizona. Video footage published in the weeks after the crash showed Vasquez reacting with shock during the moments just before the collision.

The new documents indicate that some mistakes were clearly related to Uber’s internal structure, what experts call “safety culture.” For one, the self-driving program didn’t include an operational safety division or safety manager.

The most glaring mistakes were software-related. Uber’s system was not equipped to identify or deal with pedestrians walking outside of a crosswalk. Uber engineers also appear to have been so worried about false alarms that they built in an automated one-second delay between a crash detection and action. In addition, the company chose to turn off a built-in Volvo braking system that the automaker later concluded might have dramatically reduced the speed at which the car hit Herzberg, or perhaps avoided the collision altogether. (Experts say the decision to turn off the Volvo system while Uber’s software did its work did make technical sense, because it would be unsafe for the car to have two software “masters.”)

Much of that explains why, despite the fact that the car detected Herzberg with more than enough time to stop, it was traveling at 43.5 mph when it struck her and threw her 75 feet. When the car first detected her presence, 5.6 seconds before impact, it classified her as a vehicle. Then it changed its mind to “other,” then to vehicle again, back to “other,” then to bicycle, then to “other” again, and finally back to bicycle.

It never guessed Herzberg was on foot for a simple, galling reason: Uber didn’t tell its car to look for pedestrians outside of crosswalks. “The system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians,” the NTSB’s Vehicle Automation Report reads. Every time it tried a new guess, it restarted the process of predicting where the mysterious object—Herzberg—was headed. It wasn’t until 1.2 seconds before the impact that the system recognized that the SUV was going to hit Herzberg, that it couldn’t steer around her, and that it needed to slam on the brakes.

That triggered what Uber called “action suppression,” in which the system held off braking for one second while it verified “the nature of the detected hazard”—a second during which the safety operator, Uber’s most important and last line of defense, could have taken control of the car and hit the brakes herself. But Vasquez wasn’t looking at the road during that second. So with 0.2 seconds left before impact, the car sounded an audio alarm, and Vasquez took the steering wheel, disengaging the autonomous system. Nearly a full second after striking Herzberg, Vasquez hit the brakes.

Wired.com

The Mighty 401, Busiest Highway in North America

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King’s Highway 401, commonly referred to as Highway 401 and also known by its official name as the Macdonald–Cartier Freeway or colloquially as the four-oh-one, is a 400-series highway in the Canadian province of Ontario. It stretches 828.0 kilometres (514.5 mi) from Windsor in the west to the Ontario–Quebec border in the east. The part of Highway 401 that passes through Toronto is North America’s busiest highway, and one of the widest. Together with Quebec Autoroute 20, it forms the road transportation backbone of the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, along which over half of Canada’s population resides and is also a Core Route in the National Highway System of Canada. The route is maintained by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) and patrolled by the Ontario Provincial Police. The speed limit is 100 km/h (62 mph) throughout its length, unless posted otherwise.

 

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Highway 401 was closed during a series of propane explosions in Toronto in 2008, allowing for this rare photo of the 14-lane highway occupied by a single vehicle.

This highway is right up there with the giant California and Texas freeways.

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The traffic jams are notorious.

Heavy Rescue: 401 is a Canadian reality TV show that follows the operations of multiple heavy vehicle rescue and recovery towing companies, along with the support from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, and York Regional Police, based in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and southern Ontario region. The show focuses on the hardships of operating along Ontario’s 400-series highways, such as the 401 in the GTA.

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Subway Pushers of Japan

The Japanese rail network is known throughout the world for its superiority and punctuality. In the capital city Tokyo, nearly 40 million passengers ride the rail every day, heavily outweighing other modes of transport like buses and private cars. Of these, 22% or 8.7 million take the subway.

The Tokyo subway network is a transportation marvel. On most lines, trains come every 5 minutes apart, on average, and during peak times, they tend to run every 2-3 minutes. That’s about 24 trains per hour going in one direction. Despite so many trains, the subway is extremely overcrowded, especially during rush hour. This page from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has data (from 2007) detailing the level of congestion at different stations of Tokyo’s subway. As you can see, nearly all of them run at over capacity with a few running at 200% over rated capacity.

 

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“Oshiya” or “pushers” at Tokyo’s Shinjuku station trying to pack as many passengers as possible into the carriages during rush hour in 1967. Photo credit: CNN

In order to fit twice the number of passengers into a subway carriage, the stations employ uniformed staff known as oshiya or “pusher”, whose goal is to cram as many people as possible into the subway tram. These white glove-wearing personal actually pushes people into the train, so the doors can be shut. This is so surreal, it has to be seen to be believed.

 

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When pushers were first brought in at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, they were called “passenger arrangement staff” and were largely made up of students working part-time. Nowadays, there are no dedicated “pushers”. The station staff and part-time workers fill these roles during rush hours.

Although a Japanese phenomenon now, subway pushers were an American invention and originated in New York City, nearly a century ago. They were not very well-liked because they were known to push and shove passengers with hostility. The vigor with which the guards often did their job earned them the reputation as “sardine packers”. Their brutality sometimes made national headlines. “The Anxious Subway Guard Who Guillotines His Passengers” —screamed a headline, and “Long Suffering New York Subway Riders Cheer Man Who Hit Guards” —reported another.

Pushers became out of fashion with the introduction of automatic door controls and automatic turnstiles. As the sadistic sardine packers began to lose their job in the 1920s, their demise were mourned briefly. Several movies about subway workers came out during this period including Subway Sadie (1926), Wolf’s Clothing (1927), The Big Noise (1928), Love Over Night (1928) and so on. Subway pushers were also depicted in a 1941 biographical movie called Pusher — the story takes place during World War 1.

More recently, in 2012, Hong Kong- based photographer Michael Wolf created a photo series named Tokyo Compression, where he captured the traumatized and pained expression of commuters as their faces were crushed against the windows. These pictures show how horrible and shameful the situation inside the subway is. Bodies are squished so tightly against one another that most people can’t physically move. Short persons suffer the risk of getting smothered against the coat of their fellow passenger. Getting off at the right station require strength and determination, and fire hazards and emergency evacuation are serious issues. The subways are also fertile grounds for pickpockets and gropers.

 

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Japanese commuters wait in line for the next train, while people pushers push passengers onto the Yamanote line subway train during the morning rush hour at Shinjuku station in Tokyo, Japan. The daily ritual is performed to maximize the number of commuters on trains.

Japanese commuters wait in line for the next train, while people pushers push passengers onto the Yamanote line subway train during the morning rush hour at Shinjuku station in Tokyo, Japan. The daily ritual is performed to maximize the number of commuters on trains.

 

“Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle.” Plato.

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The Widest Freeway in the World

Where else? Houston, Texas of course.

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When constructed during the 1960s, the I-10 Katy from Houston, known as the Katy Freeway, was built with six to eight lanes wide barring side lanes, being modest by Houston standards because existing traffic demand to the farming area of West Houston was relatively low. As the population and economic activity increased in the area vehicular traffic increased, reaching an annual average daily traffic (AADT) of 238,000 vehicles just west of the West Loop in 2001.

In 2000 increased traffic levels and congestion led to plans being approved for widening of the freeway to 16 lanes with a capacity for 200,000 cars per day. An old railway running along the north side of the freeway was demolished in 2002 in preparation for construction which began in 2004. The interior two lanes in each direction between SH 6 and west I-610, the Katy Freeway Managed Lanes or Katy Tollway, were built as high-occupancy toll lanes and are managed by the Harris County Toll Road Authority. The section just west of SH 6 to the Fort Bend–Harris county line opened in late June 2006. Two intersections were rebuilt (Beltway 8 and I-610), toll booths were added, together with landscaping as part of Houston’s Highway Beautification Project. Most of the section between Beltway 8 and SH 6 had been laid by September 2006 and work was completed in October 2008.

Tolls on the managed lanes vary by vehicle occupancy, axle count and time of day. High occupancy vehicles may travel for free at certain times.

 

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Interstate 10 (I-10) is the major east–west Interstate Highway in the Southern United States. In the U.S. state of Texas, it runs east from Anthony, at the border with New Mexico, through El Paso, San Antonio and Houston to the border with Louisiana in Orange, Texas. At just under 880 miles (1,420 km), the Texas segment of I-10, maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation, is the longest continuous untolled freeway in North America that is operated by a single authority, a title formerly held by Ontario Highway 401. 

 

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Golden Gate Bridge Road Zipper

A barrier transfer machine, also known as zipper machine or road zipper, is a heavy vehicle used to transfer concrete lane dividers, such as jersey barriers, which are used to relieve traffic congestion during rush hours. Many other cities use them temporarily during construction work. The lanes created by the machine are sometimes referred to as “zipper lanes”.

One advantage of barrier systems over other lane management treatments (i.e. traffic cones or overhead directional lights) is that a solid, positive barrier prevents vehicle collisions due to motorists crossing over into opposing traffic flow. A disadvantage is that lane widths can be slightly reduced.

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