As Pedestrian Deaths Spike, Scientists Scramble for Answers

On Monday, the nascent self-driving vehicle sector reached an unfortunate milestone when, for the first time, a self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This also means robot drivers are becoming more like their human predecessors—who kill thousands of pedestrians every year.

And that number has risen dramatically in the past several years. In 2016, cars hit and killed nearly 6,000 pedestrians. That’s a serious spike from the historic low—below 4,000—in 2009.

The Great Recession explains some of the fluctuation. When fewer people have jobs, they spend less time out and about, and their exposure to potential crashes drops. When times are good, the opposite happens. “Economic changes do give us a good idea of the general direction of traffic deaths,” says Richard Retting, the general manager of Sam Schwartz, a New York City–based traffic engineering firm. But read more

Uber Video Show the Kind of Crash Self-Driving Cars Are Made to Avoid

The police have released video showing the final moments before an Uber self-driving car struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the street, on Sunday night in Tempe, Arizona.

The video includes views of the human safety driver and her view of the road, and it shows Herzberg emerging from the dark just seconds before the car hits her. And based on this evidence, it’s difficult to understand why Uber’s self-driving system—with its lidar laser sensor that sees in the dark—failed to avoid hitting Herzberg, who was slowly, steadily crossing the street, pushing a bicycle.

“I think the sensors on the vehicles should have seen the pedestrian well in advance,” says Steven Shladover, a UC Berkeley research engineer who has been studying automated systems for decades and watched the video. “If she had been moving erratically, it would have been difficult for the systems to predict where this person was going,” he says, but the video shows no read more

Uber’s Self-Driving Car Just Killed Somebody in Arizona. Now What?

At about 10 pm on Sunday evening, a self-driving Uber struck and killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona. The crash appears to be the first time a self-driving vehicle has killed someone—and could alter the course of a scantily regulated, poorly understood technology that has the power to save lives and create fortunes.

The Tempe Police Department reports the Volvo XC90 SUV was in autonomous mode when the crash occurred, though the car had a human safety driver behind the wheel to monitor the technology and retake control in the case of an emergency or imminent crash. The woman, Elaine Herzberg, was transported to a local hospital, where she died from her injuries. The police department will complete its full report later today.

In response, Uber has pulled its self-driving vehicles off public roads in the Phoenix metro area (including Tempe), San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburgh (where the cars also pick up passengers). A spokesperson says the company read more

The Engineering Behind the Horrible Florida Bridge Collapse

The people of Sweetwater, Florida were supposed to wait until early 2019 for the Florida International University-Sweetwater University City Bridge to open. Instead, they will wait about that long for an official assessment from the National Transportation Safety Board of why it collapsed just five days after its installation, killing at least six people.

Early Thursday afternoon, the 174-foot, 950-ton span of the pedestrian bridge crashed onto the eight-lane road below, crushing several cars. As of Friday afternoon, recovery operations were ongoing.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, many queries have centered on the unconventional technique used to build the bridge, something called Accelerated Bridge Construction, or ABC. But ABC is more complicated than its acronym suggests—and it’s hardly brand new.

Engineers and construction workers have used similar techniques in Europe for decades, and in the US since the mid-2000s. It has been used hundreds of times, read more

New FAA Rules Take Aim at Dangerous Helicopter Flights

The Federal Aviation Administration today ordered the halt of open-door helicopter flights that use passenger harnesses without quick-release capability, less than a week after such a flight ended with the drowning deaths of five people.

Last Sunday evening, a doors-off helicopter catering to photographers and tourists crashed into the East River of New York City, killing all five passengers who were harnessed to the quickly sinking aircraft. The pilot, who wore a conventional quick-release restraint, survived, but the passengers had no easy way to free themselves. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, and it will likely issue a detailed analysis in about a year.

The directive marks an unusually quick reaction by the FAA to prevent similar tragedies, and it appears to be a direct reaction to methods used by the two companies involved in the fatal flight, New Jersey-based FlyNYON, which markets such trips to professional and amateur photographers, read more

Musk Talks Tariffs, NYC Battles Traffic, and More Car News of the Week

In times of great upheaval, there’s bound to be a few question marks. How should the US respond to China’s protectionist car tariffs—and does it have the leverage to change anything about them? How will self-driving cars actually be manufactured, and how will old players make money off the new tech?

Plus, Waymo is really moving toward launching a driverless taxi service in Phoenix (but when?); New York inches toward a congestion charge that could clear up traffic (but how?); and reporter Jack Stewart highlights the bonkers concepts from the Geneva Motor Show (but how much?).

It was a week; let’s get you caught up.


Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • Sure, electric cars are mostly better for the environment. But what does “mostly” mean? Jack takes a look at a new analysis that maps the real miles-per-gallon output of your zippy ride by region. (The world is better off if you drive in California than Texas.)
  • Lyft and Magna team up to make self-driving cars. As transportation editor Alex Davies explains, the Canadian parts supplier gets data and an actual path to deployment. And Lyft gets manufacturing and automotive knowhow, plus connections with almost every player in the driving industry.
  • A Twitter convo between Donald Trump and Elon Musk prompts the question: Why is it so hard for American carmakers to sell their wares in China? And what can the US do about it? Jack runs the analysis and concludes that Tesla (and other EV-makers) will most likely continue to have a tough time there.
  • Waymo starts to put “early riders” in its totally driverless taxis, to prep for the launch of a commercial service in Phoenix, Arizona, sometime this year.
  • Via Jack, some inventive inspirations from the Geneva Motor Show, where headlights, tires, windscreen wipers, and even autonomous vehicle concepts got whole new looks.
  • New York City may finally, finally, be considering a plan to fight terrible traffic. But much easier said than done: The scheme is a complex exercise in behavioral economics, I report, and it’s very possible the city may get it wrong.

Excellent Engine Purchase of the Week

Some lucky attendee of the storied Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance walked away with this special 1962 Ferrari Tipo 128F Engine and Tipo 508E gearbox, originally installed in a Series II 250 GTE. With 240 brake horsepower, auction house Gooding & Co notes the setup is “ideal for museum display or read more

My Day With the Zombies Helping Airports Practice for Disaster

The wounded are everywhere—young and old, with terrible burns on their faces, blood streaming from holes made by shrapnel, leg lacerations studded with what look like airplane parts. A young man in a blood-stained white T-shirt, with horrific facial burns, strolls past me. Yet, despite these terrible injuries, everyone’s smiling and chatting, gulping down coffee and gobbling the danishes laid out on trestle tables in a white tent.

This gathering of zombies looks more like the Thriller wrap party than the end of the world.

That’s because we’re all participants in a disaster training and assessment exercise for the first responders who work at the airport and the neighboring district. We’re about 60 people in all, some locals with a free Wednesday morning and a bunch of EMT trainees who get class credit for agreeing to a gruesome makeover. We’re each assigned some level of injury. I’m told I’ll be one of the lucky ones.

Before the read more

Electrics Are Cleaner Than Gas Cars, And the Gap Is Growing

Everyone’s saying it: The future of driving is electric. The big-name car companies have plans to start giving Tesla some tough competition. Jaguar’s I-Pace electric SUV will be on sale soon, and Porsche is teasing a new concept Mission E Cross Turismo, which looks like an SUV’d Panamera (in a good way). And normal cars for regular people are going the same way. Combined, Ford and GM plan to offer 34 full electric models in the next five years.

Add to that cities or even whole countries talking about banning sales of cars powered by internal combustion engines: Norway (by 2025), India (by 2030), France and the UK (2040). China, the world’s largest car market, has considered the idea, and in the meantime has imposed some of the planet’s most stringent environmental standards.

All this change comes in the name of environmental protection, eliminating the pollutants that make cities gross and unhealthy and the CO2 that contributes to global climate read more

New York City Mulls a Congestion Charge to Beat Back Traffic

You don’t really have to have been to New York City to know that traffic is bad there. Its soundtrack is car horns, its symbol the taxi, its common language whining about the gridlock on the West Side Highway. But New York traffic has, in fact, gotten worse. The average downtown Manhattan taxi moved at 9.35 mph in 2010, but was inching at 6.8 mph by 2016. The numbers are even worse in the heart of midtown, where the average taxi travels at 4.7 mph—a speed easily matched on foot by any real New Yorker.

Part of the problem is that New Yorkers seem to be driving more than they did a few years ago. The economy has improved, meaning more people are out and about and spending money. Meanwhile, subway service has dropped and bus ridership is down, pushing more locals toward drivers’ seats. (Vehicle registration is up 9 percent in the city since 2012.) And the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft, and Via haven’t helped read more

Lyft and Magna Partner to Make Self-Driving Cars for Everyone

In the increasingly fierce—if not entirely tangible—fight for the exploding self-driving car market, Lyft stands out for its free love vibes. The company encourages anyone and everyone with robo-car tech to deploy its vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network. In a business that could be worth trillions before long, Lyft wants to be the middleman for the everyman, the platform that will connect cars to riders—and take its slice of the money, of course. So far, Ford, Waymo, Jaguar Land Rover, and Aptiv (a self-driving spinoff from supplier Delphi) have thrown their keys in the bowl.

At the same time, Lyft announced last July it was developing its own autonomous driving technology, hiring hundreds of engineers to fill a building in Palo Alto. “It’s too strategic an area for us to not be a player,” Luc Vincent, the project’s technical lead, told WIRED at the time.


p class=”paywall”>Now, Lyft is adding some muscle to that latter effort by partnering with auto read more