March 19, 2018

he autonomous-car industry faces closer scrutiny and criticism after a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday evening.

Full details of the accident are unclear, but the local police department issued a statement saying that a woman was fatally struck after walking in front of an Uber car traveling in self-driving mode. Uber says it is cooperating with a police investigation and has suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto.

It is the first time a self-driving vehicle has killed a pedestrian, and the event is already causing some to question the pace at which the technology is moving. Besides Uber, dozens of companies, including established car makers and small startups, are rushing to test experimental self-driving vehicles and autonomous systems on roads. These efforts have received blessing from local governments because the technology seems so promising and because a driver is usually behind the wheel as a backup. A safety driver was in the front seat when the accident in Tempe occurred.

Though automated driving could ultimately save countless lives on roads, some say the technology is being deployed too quickly.

At a time when many have lauded the technology as ready for large-scale deployment, “this is clear proof that is not yet the case,” says Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at MIT who studies automated driving. “Until we understand the testing and deployment of these systems further, we need to take our time and work through the evolution of the technology,” he says.

Read More on MIT Technology Review