Nvidia’s Jensen Huang cautions patience in judging Uber AV engineers

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang faced a number of questions regarding Uber’s recent self-driving test vehicle accident, in which an SUV equipped with Uber’s autonomous technology struck and killed 49-year old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona.

Earlier on Tuesday, Reuters broke the news that Nvidia was suspending its own autonomous testing programs around the world. Huang didn’t address the suspension on stage, but he did express sympathy for the victim during the keynote, which he reiterated during the Q&A.

“First of all, what happened is tragic and sad,” Huang said in response to a question about whether he believes the accident might impact appetite among other companies for developing autonomous technologies. “It also is a reminder of exactly why we’re doing this.”

Huang explained that in fact, as a result of the accident, he actually believes that investment will rise in self-driving system design, specifically because previously companies might have thought they could get away with meager or minimal investment in those areas, and instead will be realizing it’s the one area where they can’t compromise in favor of attempting to lower costs.

“I think that the world is going to, as a result, be much more serious about investing in development systems, which is good,” he said.

Meanwhile, Huang also urged caution regarding anyone being too quick to judge Uber’s engineers or their intentions and diligence.

Huang said that Uber has engineers who are “intensely serious about what they do,” and said that he “wouldn’t judge them” until we have more information about what occurred with the accident. “We don’t know exactly what happened,” he said. “And we gotta give them the chance to go and understand for themselves.”

On the subject of Nvidia’s suspension of its own program, and the motivation behind doing so, Huang said it was all about engaging an abundance of caution in an area where safety must always come first.

“We use extreme caution, and the best practices that we know in testing our cars,” he said. “First of all, it’s of course a safety concern, because our engineers are actually in the car. So it’s something we take incredibly seriously.”

He added that the reason for the suspension was “simple,” since the accident means that there’s now “a new data point” that has to be taken into consideration, and as “good engineers,” Nvidia must “wait to see what we can learn from the incident” before continuing testing activities.

Uber blocked from testing self-driving cars on Arizona roads

Uber has been barred from testing its self-driving cars on public roads in Arizona following the accident last week involving one of its testing vehicles that killed a pedestrian crossing the street in its path. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey released a letter sent to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in which he described the accident as captured by onboard cameras as “disturbing and alarming.”

The governor, who has been a strong proponent of self-driving testing in the state up until this point, advocating for Uber and other companies to bring their programs to Arizona roads, also directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to “suspend” Uber’s self-driving testing access.

Uber had already suspending testing of its autonomous test vehicles not only in Arizona, but in all markets following the crash and pending the results of its investigation.

The ride-hailing company had begun operations in Arizona in 2016, following its launch of its self-driving SUVs on San Francisco streets, in a test which was quickly shut down once the California DMV revealed they did not have the proper permit to test on state roads. Uber made a big show of transporting its test fleet to Arizona, where Ducey voiced strong support and welcome for the relocation of Uber’s self-driving pilot to within his state.

Video: The driver of the autonomous Uber was distracted before fatal crash

The Tempe, Arizona police department have released a video showing the moments before the fatal crash that involved Uber’s self-driving car. The video includes the view of the street from the Uber and a view of minder behind the wheel of the autonomous Uber.

Warning: This video is disturbing.

The video shows the victim crossing a dark street when an Uber self-driving Volvo XC90 strikes her at 40 mph. It also shows the person who is supposed to be babysitting the autonomous vehicle looking down moments before the crash. It’s unclear what is distracting the minder. It’s also unclear why Uber’s systems did not detect and react to the victim who was clearly moving across its range of sensors at walking speeds.

Uber provided the following statement regarding the incident to TechCrunch:

Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.

Since the crash on March 19, Uber has pulled all its vehicles from the roads operating in Pittsburgh, Tempe, San Francisco and Toronto. This is the first time an autonomous vehicle operating in self-driving mode has resulted in a human death. In a statement to TechCrunch, the NHTSA said it has sent over its “Special Crash Investigation” team to Tempe. This is “consistent with NHTSA’s vigilant oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies,” a spokesperson for the agency told TechCrunch.

“NHTSA is also in contact with Uber, Volvo, Federal, State and local authorities regarding the incident,” the spokesperson said. “The agency will review the information and proceed as warranted.”

Toyota also paused its self-driving testing in the US following the accident.

This tragic accident is the sort of situation self-driving vehicles are supposed to address. After all, these systems are supposed to be able to see through the dark and cannot get distracted by Twitter.

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