Uber's Lidar provider

Uber's Lidar provider "baffled" by deadly accident [update]

by Ronan Glon

Uber nearly shut down its self-driving car program last year, according to a separate report.

Sensor manufacturer Velodyne stresses its equipment isn't to blame in the crash that killed 49-year old Elaine Herzberg last Sunday. It's "baffled" by what happened.

Based in San Jose, California, Velodyne designed and built the Lidar Uber installed in its autonomous Volvo XC90. The ride-sharing firm isn't the only car or tech company using Velodyne equipment. The difference between the various systems vying for autonomous supremacy largely lies in how they interpret the data provided by the hardware on board. Velodyne blames the crash on a software problem.

"We do not believe the accident was due to Lidar. Our Lidar can see perfectly well in the dark, as well as it sees in daylight, producing millions of points of information. However, it is up to the rest of the system to interpret and use the data to make decisions. We do not know how the Uber system of decision-making works," Velodyne Lidar vice president Marta Hall told the BBC.

She stopped short of blaming the crash on software. Uber refused to comment on Hall's statement while the investigation is on-going.

"We are very sad, sorry, and worried for the future of a project which is intended to save lives," Hall added.

Uber's fleet of self-driving vehicles remains off the road as of writing. It's unclear when testing will resume.

The New York Times writes Uber's autonomous program struggled even before the crash. Its cars required human intervention far more often than those tested by rival Waymo. Internal documents suggest Uber struggled to meet its target of a human intervention for every 13 miles of testing. Meanwhile, Waymo averages a human intervention every 5,600 miles.

The report adds Uber CEO Dara Khosrowhahi considered shutting down the self-driving car program when he took over as CEO in August of last year. He ultimately decided to keep it because it's important to the company's long-term prospects, according to insiders who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Update: Though Hall's comments suggest the Uber prototype uses Velodyne's lidar, the company emailed Leftlane a statement to distance itself from those claims.

"Marta's statement from Bloomberg is defending the technology and Velodyne's sensors. She did not confirm that Velodyne is a sensor supplier to Uber, nor that Velodyne sensors were on the vehicle involved in the incident," a spokesperson told us.