After Uber Fatality, Autonomous-Vehicle Pioneer Points To Lethal Record Of Human-Driven Cars

Self-driving cars remain the solution to the unacceptable number of fatalities caused by human-piloted cars, a pioneer in vehicle autonomy said yesterday when asked about the impact on his industry of an Uber self-driving car killing someone.
Chris Urmson was the chief technology officer of Google's autonomous-vehicle division for more than seven years before joining peers from Tesla and Uber last year to form Aurora Innovation, which has partnered with Volkswagen and Hyundai and raised $90 million in venture capital.
"Globally 1.2 million people die on the roads," Urmson said yesterday at the Economist Innovation Summit in Chicago. "In the U.S. it's somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 people. In the U.S. that's the equivalent of a 737 crashing every day. We wouldn't accept that in air travel, and yet we do on the roads of America every day, so I think the big picture we have to focus on is that the status quo is not acceptable."
Urmson got into vehicle autonomy because of its safety potential, he said, working in 2003 with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on self-driving convoy vehicles that could save lives in Iraq.
"I've been working in this space for about 15 years and from the earliest time it was about saving lives."
Self-driving cars are expected to eliminate the estimated 90 percent of automobile accidents that are caused by human error. But on Sunday night in Tempe, Arizona, an Uber self-driving Volvo XC90 SUV failed to avoid hitting a 49-year-old woman who crossed a street in front of it. Elaine Herzberg was killed. The Tempe Police Department released video:
Urmson declined to discuss that accident, saying it was time to think of the victim's family and wait on investigators.
"I think I would rather defer until we have more information. We don't have any inside information. The NTSB is involved and Uber is investigating with them and with local authorities," he said.
"I think it would be premature to draw any conclusions without having them run the course of the investigation."
But he acknowledged he was undeterred in his effort to market autonomous-vehicle technology.
"That's really what the technology is about and our company, Aurora, that's our focus: to get the technology out onto the market safely, quickly and broadly to have what I think is a huge social-good impact."
Urmson's founding partners at Aurora are Sterling Anderson, a former director of the semi-autonomous Autopilot program at Tesla, and Drew Bagnell, who led the autonomy and perception team at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center.
Chris Urmson explains self-driving car technology in a TED Talk:

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