March 28, 2018 / 9:00 AM / a month ago


That decision resulted in a self-driving vehicle with more blind spots than its own earlier generation of autonomous cars, as well as those of its rivals, according to interviews with five former employees and four industry experts who spoke for the first time about Uber’s technology switch.

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Driverless cars are supposed to avoid accidents with lidar – which uses laser light pulses to detect hazards on the road - and other sensors such as radar and cameras. The new Uber driverless vehicle is armed with only one roof-mounted lidar sensor compared with seven lidar units on the older Ford Fusion models Uber employed, according to diagrams prepared by Uber.

In scaling back to a single lidar on the Volvo, Uber introduced a blind zone around the perimeter of the SUV that cannot fully detect pedestrians, according to interviews with former employees and Raj Rajkumar, the head of Carnegie Mellon University’s transportation center who has been working on self-driving technology for over a decade.

The lidar system made by Velodyne - one of the top suppliers of sensors for self-driving vehicles - sees objects in a 360-degree circle around the car, but has a narrow vertical range that prevents it from detecting obstacles low to the ground, according to information on Velodyne’s website as well as former employees who operated the Uber SUVs.

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Autonomous vehicles operated by rivals Waymo, Alphabet Inc’s self-driving vehicle unit, have six lidar sensors, while General Motors Co’s vehicle contains five, according to information from the companies.

Uber declined to comment on its decision to reduce its lidar count. In a statement late Tuesday, an Uber spokeswoman said, “We believe that technology has the power to make transportation safer than ever before and recognize our responsibility to contribute to safety in our communities. As we develop self-driving technology, safety is our primary concern every step of the way.”

Uber referred questions on the blind spot to Velodyne. Velodyne acknowledged that with the rooftop lidar there is a roughly three meter blind spot around a vehicle, saying that more sensors are necessary.

“If you’re going to avoid pedestrians, you’re going to need to have a side lidar to see those pedestrians and avoid them, especially at night,” Marta Hall, president and chief business development officer at Velodyne, told Reuters.

The safety of Uber’s self-driving car program is under intense scrutiny since Elaine Herzberg, 49, was killed last week after an Uber Volvo XC90 SUV operating in autonomous mode struck and killed her while she was jaywalking with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona.

The precise causes of the Arizona accident are not yet known, and it is unclear how the vehicle’s sensors functioned that night or whether the lidar’s blind spot played a role. The incident is under investigation by local police and federal safety officials who have offered few details, including whether Uber’s decision to scale back its sensors is under review.

Uber has said it is cooperating in the investigation and has pulled all of its autonomous cars off the road, but has provided no further details about the crash.

Like the older Fusion model, Uber’s top competitors place multiple, smaller lidar units around the car to augment the central rooftop lidar, a practice experts in the field say provides more complete coverage of the road.

The earlier Fusion test cars used seven lidars, seven radars and 20 cameras. The newer Volvo test vehicles use a single lidar, 10 radars and seven cameras, Uber said.

Since Uber launched a self-driving car program in early 2015, it has hustled to catch up with Waymo, which began working on the technology in 2009. Uber management moved swiftly and confidently even as some car engineers voiced caution, according to former employees, in a rush to get more cars driving more miles.

Seven experts who have reviewed the crash agree that a self-driving system should have seen Herzberg and braked. She had crossed nearly the entire four-lane, empty road before being struck by the front right side of the vehicle. The night was clear and streetlights were lit.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman will fill in for Netanyahu if he is unable to attend.

On Monday Netanyahu, his wife and son were questioned by police as part of an investigation into one of the corruption cases in which the prime minister is a suspect.

In the two other cases police have already recommended that Netanyahu be charged with bribery. The final decision about whether to prosecute rests with the Israeli attorney general. That decision could be months away.

So far, partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition have stood by him, saying they are awaiting the attorney general’s next moves. Political analysts say such support may erode if the investigations against Netanyahu intensify.

Surveys have shown that about half of Israelis believe the police over Netanyahu and think he should step down, while a third think he should remain in office. Support for Netanyahu’s Likud party remains strong in opinion polls.

Additional reporting by Eli Berlzon and Jeffrey Heller; writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Gareth Jones 

The surviving ex-Mossad intelligence agency chiefs voiced their opinion of the fourth-term, right-wing leader in a joint interview excerpted on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s best-selling newspaper and a regular Netanyahu critic.

Netanyahu had no immediate response, but a senior member of his governing coalition brushed off the censure.

Danny Yatom, who headed the Mossad during Netanyahu’s first stint in office in the late 1990s, called for his ouster, accusing him and his aides of “putting their interests ahead of national interests” as corruption investigations deepen.

Police questioned Netanyahu on Monday over his alleged dealings with the country’s largest telecommunication company, one of three cases weighing on his political future. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and opinion polls show his popularity is still high.

Yatom also voiced concern about “the inertia in the diplomatic sphere, which is leading us toward a bi-national state (with the Palestinians), which would spell the end of (Israel as) a Jewish and democratic state”.

Negotiations over a “two-state solution” to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians have been frozen since 2014. Some argue that if Israel fails to quit occupied territory, it could one day face a choice between remaining a democracy or securing a Jewish majority by denying the Palestinians voting rights.

Figures cited by Israeli officials on Monday showed the number of Jews and Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River - territory encompassing Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip - is at or near parity.

“We have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren here, and I want them to live in a healthy country - and the country is sick,” Zvi Zamir, Mossad director from 1968 to 1974, was quoted as saying by Yedioth.

“We are in a critical medical state. It could be that the country had symptoms when Netanyahu took over, but he has brought it to the grave condition of a malignant disease.”

Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a hardliner in Israel’s conservative coalition government, took to Twitter to dismiss the allegations aired by the ex-spymasters as “simply untrue”.

“The country is in an excellent condition,” said Bennett, who has cast himself as a possible successor to Netanyahu .

“Among most of our leadership, the good of the country is first

Assange has been living inside the embassy since June 2012, when he entered the building to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning about allegations of sex crimes, which he has always denied.

The Swedish investigation was dropped in May last year, but Assange, who was on bail at the time when he walked into the embassy, faces arrest by the British authorities for breaching his bail terms should he step outside.

“It’s of great regret that Julian Assange remains in the Ecuador embassy,” junior minister Alan Duncan said during a question-and-answer session on foreign affairs in parliament’s House of Commons, in response to a question about Assange.

“It’s about time that this miserable little worm walked out of the embassy and gave himself up to British justice.”

Assange responded to Duncan’s comment with a tweet.

“As a political prisoner detained without charge for 8 years, in violation of 2 UN rulings, I suppose I must be ‘miserable’; yet nothing wrong with being a ‘little’ person although I’m rather tall; and better a ‘worm’, a healthy creature that invigorates the soil, than a snake,” he said.

Assange says the real reason for his legal troubles is the fact that WikiLeaks published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets, and fears that if he leaves the embassy he risks being extradited to the United States.

He considers himself to be under arbitrary detention in the Ecuadorean embassy - a description of his situation rejected by the British authorities who say he voluntarily went into the building and could leave anytime if he were prepared to face up to the consequences of his actions.

“I have already fully served any theoretical (I haven’t been charged) ‘bail violation’ whilst in prison and under house arrest. So why is there a warrant for my arrest?” he said in an email to Reuters.

Last month, a British judge refused to halt legal proceedings against Assange for jumping bail and said he was “a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice”.

British police ended their permanent guard on the embassy in October 2015 but said they would maintain “covert tactics” to arrest Assange if he left. At the time, they said 12.6 million pounds ($17.8 million) had been spent on guarding the embassy

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will expel one Russian diplomat in response to a nerve agent attack in England that the British government has blamed on Russia, a move that Moscow’s ambassador to Dublin said would not go unanswered.

Governments across Europe, the United States and elsewhere have announced plans to expel a total of more than 100 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on March 4. Moscow has denied being behind it.

Ireland cherishes its neutrality and is not part of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, but Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it was not neutral when it came to such an attack and that it was important to show solidarity with its nearest neighbor.

“Ireland is a neutral country, we do not join military alliances. However when it comes to terrorism, assassinations, the use of chemical weapons and cyber terrorism, we are not neutral one bit,” Varadkar told parliament.

“We are joined of course in expelling diplomats with other countries that are neutral, including Finland and Sweden, who have taken the same course of action as us.”

Varadkar said the decision on whose diplomatic status was to be terminated was based on intelligence from police and defense forces. Ireland has expelled Russian diplomats before, most recently in 2011 in a row over the use of forged Irish passports.

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Russia’s ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, said its expelled diplomat had done nothing wrong or illegal and that the decision on appropriate, reciprocal action was now up to the Russian government.

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“This kind of decision is unwarranted, uncalled for, senseless and regrettable. Clearly all responsibility for any effect of this move, on the otherwise positive state of Irish-Russian relations rests on the Irish government,” Filatov told a news conference at the Russian embassy in Dublin.

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“You might safely assume that this kind of arbitrary decision and action will not go unanswered, that’s for certain.”

Last month, a British judge refused to halt legal proceedings against Assange for jumping bail and said he was “a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice”.

British police ended their permanent guard on the embassy in October 2015 but said they would maintain “covert tactics” to arrest Assange if he left. At the time, they said 12.6 million pounds ($17.8 million) had been spent on guarding the embassy.

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