Uber settles quickly
Uber has reached an undisclosed settlement in the fatal incident with the victim's husband and daughter. This matches my prediction of Uber's likely best course of action, since it will shut down much of the public discussion and avoid dragging all sorts of details out into the open in a lengthy trial. The settlement comes with an agreement for silence, as you might expect.
Of course, that means the public does not get to see them, at least for now. It will see some of them in the NTSB accident report. If there is a criminal trial over the death, some details will come out, but far fewer than would in a civil trial. If Uber is simply cited for infraction of the vehicle code, it would not want that to go to trial and would just pay the penalties.
Another option lies open. The governments issuing permits for Uber to do its testing may require it to be more forthcoming if they wish new permits. Last week, Uber's permit to test in California expired and it declined to renew. It is unsure who will let them test in the future.
The settlement offer was presumably generous, so that the family would quickly accept it. As noted this is compounded by the fact that society and court cases don't attach large values to the lives of the homeless in contrast with others. While there should have been law firms willing to work pro bono (or certainly on contingency) because of the fame of the case, they would have to be looking at a highly uncertain amount of damages. If the court simply tried to calculate the future income of the deceased and the pain and suffering, it might not have generated a number that would justify the very expensive prosecution of a trial like this. Only damages that are multiplied because of the deep pockets of Uber and far from certain ability to show massive negligence or evil intent would justify that. The family is wise to take any suitably large offer.
Does Uber even know what happened?
There is some speculation, however, that Uber may not have yet been allowed access to the vehicle and its data log hard drives. They might not yet know much more than us. If so, they are probably in a very strained emotional state to be sure, knowing they ran over this woman but not why. The settlement makes this slightly less likely, but the reality is that whether it happened due to a stupid failure or an obscure freak bug, the result to the family is the same, and so the settlement might be the same. The desire of Uber to get the story out of the news is the same.
Uber would certainly have begged the officials to make copies of the disk drives for Uber, and you would think they should, since only Uber can trivially read their own internal log file formats and assist police, but they might have refused to copy them.
Uber will have, like all teams, a checklist of what to do in an accident. Of course, first will be calling 911 (possibly after getting out of danger and if trained, administering first aid.) Second will be calling Uber's own emergency hotline. Uber team members would have headed there quickly, but police and ambulance would be there first. Police might tell Uber staff not to touch the vehicle or any evidence.
Uber would have data if their vehicles are logging over 4G networks. They can't log the full sensor stream, but they could log some distillations and diagnostic messages. But they might not do that at all. If they thought about this, they would also have the car, from the time it has been in an accident until it is shut off, to be sending as much of the full data log it can, back in time, over the data networks. Done properly, the car would do this on its own, knowing full well it had been in an accident. Or the safety driver would invoke a command -- though this safety driver was surely extremely distraught.
A third option, which might be implemented after this, would be for the car to copy as much data as possible over wifi to the safety driver's phone, while also sending it to the cloud.
But perhaps Uber didn't think of such plans. This might explain their silence at a time when they really need to reassure the public. If they don't know, however, then they can't talk, for fear of saying something wrong.
Markets can be cruel
I'm at Nvidia's GPU conference, where a lot of car developers are present. NVIDIA decided, as a precautionary measure, to announce that they would also stop testing for a while. This caused their stock to lose $30/share as investors imagined this meant some connection to the audience. NVIDIA later issued a statement that Uber was not one of their partners. (This does not mean Uber isn't using their GPUs with their own tools, as many teams do.)
Detecting safety driver inattention
While the program was set long ago, some presentations were apropos. Lex Fridman of MIT presented his team's research on using neural networks to classify what drivers are doing. He demonstrated his tools on the released Uber video of the safety driver, and they easily detected she was looking away from the road for extended periods. Their software at his web site has been released open source, making it fairly inexpensive for teams to install tools to track safety driver attentiveness and warn if they are getting drowsy or performing below par.
The use of such tools is actually commonly talked about with "autopilot" offerings that need a constantly attentive driver. There is much less talk about using them to monitor safety drivers. These free tools should make this happen more, and could even open up discussion of laws requiring such monitoring. Possibly it would have prevented this death.