PM Lee Hsien Loong at People's Association Kopi Talk held at Ci Yuan Community Club.

Self-driving car kills woman as PM Lee exhorts driverless technology

New York Times reported that an autonomous car operated by Uber struck and killed a woman on a street in Tempe, Arizona on Sunday night (18 March). It is believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with a self-driving car.

At the time of the accident, the driver-less car which was under testing, did have an emergency backup driver in the car.

Uber has suspended all driver-less car testing in Tempe as well as in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

“This tragic incident makes clear that autonomous vehicle technology has a long way to go before it is truly safe for the passengers, pedestrians, and drivers who share America’s roads,” said Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal.

The Uber car was in autonomous mode when it struck Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year-old woman, on Sunday around 10 pm.

Most testing of driver-less cars occurs with a safety driver in the front seat who is available to take over if something goes wrong. It can be challenging, however, to take control of a fast-moving vehicle.

Sgt Ronald Elcock, a Tempe police spokesman, said during a news conference that a preliminary investigation showed that the vehicle was moving around 40 miles per hour when it struck Ms Herzberg, who was walking with her bicycle on the street. He said it did not appear as though the car had slowed down before impact and that the Uber safety driver had shown no signs of impairment. The weather was clear and dry.

Uber said it would cooperate with the police in its investigation.

This is not the first time an Uber driver-less car was involved in an accident. Last March, one of its driver-less cars collided with another vehicle although the driver-less car was not at fault.

Researchers in the meantime, are struggling to teach the driver-less cars on how to adjust for unpredictable human driving or behavior.

PM Lee very bullish in driver-less technology

At the National Day Rally 1.5 years ago in 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was very bullish in introducing driver-less technology into Singapore.

“Things are changing fast, old models are not working, new models are coming thick and fast and we are having to adjust and to keep up. Because of technology, globalisation, and the disruption will happen over and over again relentlessly,” he said.

And then he talked about having driver-less taxi service in Singapore.

“I think we all know that we cannot stop progress and even Uber and Grab are going to be disrupted and the next round, maybe no drivers but instead, driver-less cars running a taxi service,” he said.

He added that One-North will serve as a test-bed for driver-less taxi service.

And on 18 Oct 2016, Land Transport Authority (LTA) proudly announced that test routes for driver-less vehicles have been doubled in length from the original 6km to a 12km network within One North.

“LTA has been working closely with JTC to further identify more roads around one-north’s Biopolis, Fusionopolis and Mediapolis to expand the test-bed boundaries as the next progressive step to provide sufficiently-challenging test routes,” LTA said.

Then on the very same day, a self-driving vehicle was involved in an accident with a lorry at Biopolis Drive in the One North.

The driver-less car belongs to startup nuTonomy, which has been testing its vehicles at One North. The test vehicle had been changing lanes when it collided with a lorry. No one was hurt.

There were 2 stand-by engineers in the car at the time of the accident.

In response, LTA issued a fact sheet saying that qualified safety drivers have to be on board at all times, “ready to take over immediate control of the vehicles when necessary”.

It’s not known if PM Lee has ever tried traveling in one of these driver-less cars.

In other news, Straits Times reported that drivers are now deployed on North East Line’s driverless MRT trains to improve rail reliability.