NuTonomy Continues Self-Driving Testing After Driverless Uber Crash

NuTonomy's CEO says they are not going to halt their testing like Uber has halted theirs in the midst of accidents.

by Jack Encarnacao, Boston Herald / March 28, 2017

(TNS) -- NuTonomy’s CEO says the tech firm won’t suspend its tests of self-driving cars in South Boston after a wreck involving an autonomous car in Arizona Friday prompted Uber to hit the brakes on its own driverless vehicle program.

Critics say the Uber crash shows the technology behind the hands-free cars needs to be heavily scrutinized and regulated — if not brought to a screeching halt — until any role self-driving technology played can be ascertained.

Karl Iagnemma, CEO of nuTon­omy, the firm testing driverless cars at the Raymond L. ­Flynn Marine Park in South Boston, said not enough is known about the crash on Friday in Tempe, Ariz., to justify any change to his company’s tests, which are being conducted under an agreement with the state and city.

“Until we understand what happened, I don’t think it’s really possible to think about implications for the broader industry,” Iagnemma told the Herald yesterday.

Uber is developing its own technology and is not using nuTon­omy’s. Uber halted its Arizona and Pittsburgh test after a self-driving SUV was knocked onto its side by another car. Police were still working to determine if a driver who was behind the Uber car’s wheel was controlling it. Driverless cars often have drivers in them to record data and provide safety backup. There were no injuries. The human driver of the other vehicle was cited.

In an unrelated accident last May, the operator of a Tesla sedan in self-driving mode was killed in Williston, Fla., when the car failed to stop for a tractor-trailer taking a left turn in front of it.

Donna Blythe-Shaw of the Boston Taxi Drivers Association questioned whether a human driver might have averted the Arizona Uber crash.

“We all drive defensively; I think driverless cars, they don’t have those kinds of instincts,” Blythe-Shaw said. “That’s an ele­ment in this automated intelligence they probably need to figure out.”

Dave Sutton, spokesman for the Taxicab, Limousine, and Paratransit Association, a staunch opponent of Uber, said the crash is a wake-up call that there could be snags in driverless technology that might not be disclosed to regulators.

“It’s incumbent on the Boston regulators to demand that information,” Sutton said. “Regulators cannot afford to sit back and imagine the companies will just provide their errors and accident rates unrequested.”

A MassDot statement last night said that with nuTon­omy, “testing progress is regularly reviewed and there have been no meaningful problems to date,” adding the Arizona accident will be monitored. A spokeswoman said the agency’s autonomous vehicle working group will discuss the incident at a meeting Thursday.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office said the Arizona crash “underscores the importance of rigorous testing with autonomous vehicle technology. ... We will continue to hold our partners to the highest safety standards.”

Bryan Reimer of the New England University Transportation Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, citing the limited scope of nuTon­omy’s testing zone, said, “The fact this crash happened should have no bearing on what Google and nuTon­omy are doing. Both organizations are moving very slowly and very strategically.”

But Teamsters Local 25 president Sean O’Brien, concerned that driverless cars could replace truck drivers, said the Arizona incident “points to massive problems involved in the development of this technology.”

“What’s worse is the massive disruption to the economy driverless cars will bring — further undermining middle-class jobs and redistributing more wealth to the already wealthy,” O’Brien said.

©2017 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.