Uber reduced number of sensors on self-driving cars prior to accident

Uber decided some time ago to place fewer sensors in a new version of its self-driving car, creating a ‘blind spot’ of three meters around the car. More sensors are needed, says the supplier of the technology.

Infographic with sensors placement. Source: Reuters

Uber reduced the number of lidar sensors from seven to one when it exchanged a modified Ford Fusion for a Volvo XC90, five former employees told Reuters. Where the Fusion still had lidar sensors in front and behind the car, the XC90 only has a lidar on the roof. This makes it more difficult for the software to detect objects within three meters of the car. The technology supplier, Velodyne, tells Reuters that more sensors are needed to detect everything around the car.

It seems possible that the reduction in the number of sensors played a role in the recent fatal accident involving a pedestrian in the US state of Arizona. The pedestrian stepped out of the shadows just in front of the car, so she would have been visible only late.

According to an initial analysis by the police, this accident would have been difficult to prevent. Recently, New York Times documents revealed that Uber’s autonomous mode has been plagued with flaws for some time. For example, the company struggled to achieve the target of having to intervene no more than once every 21 kilometers. Uber is banned from testing self-driving cars in Arizona. About half of the taxi service’s 200 self-driving cars drove around in that state.