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Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Still Have a Lot to Learn

After the fatal Uber crash in Tempe, a leading AV researcher warns that big questions about testing and public safety are looming for the industry.
An Uber self-driving vehicle undergoing testing in Pittsburgh. The company's fleet has been grounded in the wake of a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, last month.
An Uber self-driving vehicle undergoing testing in Pittsburgh. The company's fleet has been grounded in the wake of a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, last month. Gene J. Puskar/AP

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—The question posed to Phil Koopman, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was stark. “Where were you when you heard about Elaine Herzberg?”

He had a fitting answer: He was teaching a software safety class when one of his students raised a hand as the news showed up on their phone that a self-driving Uber vehicle had struck and killed a pedestrian. Elaine Herzberg, 49, was crossing a seven-lane road in Tempe, Arizona, when the Volvo SUV, which was operating in autonomous mode at the time, struck her.