Investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board have begun collecting information from the scene where a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.
The investigation into what caused the incident - and what actions, if any, were taken by the car and its safety driver - takes place as friends of the victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, call for Uber to be shut down and the government to be held accountable.
Herzberg is believed to be the first pedestrian to be killed by a self-driving car while operating in its autonomous mode.
Shortly after the incident, which took place at 10pm local time on March 18, Uber announced it had suspended tests of its autonomous driving systems on public roads. The next day, Toyota followed suit, saying it was concerned about the "emotional effect" the incident could have on its own test drivers.
In a statement released on March 20, the NTSB said its investigators were "on the ground Tuesday in Tempe, Arizona, collecting information on Sunday's fatal collision between an Uber self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian...The investigation will address the operating condition of the vehicle, driver interaction with the vehicle and opportunities for the vehicle or driver to detect the pedestrian."
The autonomous Volvo XC90 struck a pedestrian as she crossed the roadABC15 screenshot
The NTSB said it has met with representatives from Uber, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Tempe Police Department, and that it has begun examination of the vehicle in question, an Uber-owned Volvo XC90 SUV. The NTSB has also viewed a copy of a video of the crash captured by an aftermarket dashboard camera fitted to the Volvo.
Information about the technology used by the vehicle will be collected, along with details of the victim and safety driver, who - as with all Uber autonomous vehicles used in public - was sat behind the wheel at the time of the inside. Data stored on the vehicle and transmitted to Uber will also be collected by the NTSB, which expects its investigative team to remain in the Tempe area for the remainder of the week.
"The NTSB will not release any findings or determine the probable cause of the crash while on-scene," the statement added. "Those will come only after a comprehensive investigation of the gathered information and data analysis are complete."
Despite investigations being ongoing, Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle a day after the incident, saying: "The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them. His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision."
According to the police department's preliminary investigation, the Uber vehicle was traveling at 38mph and made no attempt to brake. Moir added that, having viewed footage captured by the vehicle, "it's very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode [autonomous or human-driven] based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway."
Friends of Herzberg have spoken about the incident and place the blame with both Uber and the US government for allowing the testing of autonomous technologies on public roads. "This shouldn't ever have happened." Carole Kimmerle, a friend of Herzberg for more than 10 years, told the Guardian, adding: "I think this should be a negligent homicide...and the government should also be held accountable."
"Uber should be shut down for it," another friend, Deniel Klapthor, said. "There has to be a bigger punishment than not allowing them to drive it on the street."