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TxDOT: No plans to pause self-driving vehicle technology following deadly crash

The wreck involving a self-driving Uber that struck and killed a woman in Arizona is prompting researchers in Texas to evaluate their own self-driving vehicle technology.

According to the Dallas Morning News, The Texas Department of Transportation said it’s monitoring the Arizona investigation, but there are no plans to pause state efforts at this time. Texas is one of 10 states chosen by the U.S. Department of Transporting as an automated vehicle “proving grounds”, according to Mike Lukuc, the Program Manager for the Transportation Operations Group at Texas A&M University.

Lukuc said legislation recently enacted allows automated vehicle testing.

Here in the Borderland, self-driving semi trucks are being tested on I-10. Embark, Electrolux and Ryder are working together running the longest automated freight in the world.

The trucks are loaded with refrigerators at a Northeast El Paso plant and then drive more than 600 miles to their destination in California.

Lukuc said Embark is currently working at a Level 2 automation, which means the driver of the vehicle must remain engaged at all times.

“Level 4 is where the machine can do all the driving tasks in a certain environment in a different scenario and that’s for one Embark’s target, what they’re trying to achieve, not how they’re testing,” Lukuc said. “But that is how Uber is testing, where you have a safety driver in there for research purposes. Because the product is being developed for commercialization but not yet commercialized.”

Lukuc says automation is in the production phase for crash avoidance technology.

“We are seeing a lot of benefits that aren’t talked about, aren’t publicized,” Lukuc said. “Unfortunately we’re talking about it because someone was killed. There are 15 pedestrians a day killed. 100 plus people a day in traffic accidents, and most of those are because human error.”

As for the specific incident in Arizona, Lukuc said right now, there’s not a lot of information available to tell who was at fault.

“People are confident the technology should’ve been able to handle that incident. It’s hard to say from that video,” Lukuc said.

Experts have told The Associated Press the SUV’s laser and radar sensors should have spotted the woman who was walking her bike across a dark street, and the vehicle should have stopped. In addition, driver appeared to be looking down before the crash and had a stunned look when it happened, according to dash camera video released by police.

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