The Self-Driving Uber in Fatal Crash Didn’t Have a Vision Problem

In the case of the fatal collision in Tempe, the dark conditions aren’t likely to have played a role. While darkness can limit the vision of the cameras, radar functions equally well in day or night. Lidar actually functions better in the dark because the glare of sunshine can sometimes create interference, said Raj Rajkumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who works on autonomous vehicles.

To Rajkumar, there’s little doubt that “lidar would certainly have detected an obstacle.” Any shortcoming would likely be ascribed to classification software “because it was an interesting combination of bicycle, bags and a pedestrian standing stationary on the median,” he said. Had the software recognized a pedestrian standing close to the road, he added, “it would have at least slammed on the brakes.”

Rajkumar said many of the companies he works with require human safety drivers to take the wheel when pedestrians are present along the roadway. “Just as a precautionary measure,” he said. “Nobody wants to deal with this kind of outcome.”