Self-driving fatality: U-M experts available

March 19, 2018
Contact: Nicole Casal Moore


In response to the fatal autonomous vehicle crash involving a pedestrian in Arizona, University of Michigan experts are available to comment on pedestrian/driverless car safety systems, self-driving car technology, safety systems, in general, and how people interact with driverless cars.

Lionel Robert, Lionel RobertLionel Robertassociate professor of information, leads a study that’s investigating how and whether pedestrians trust autonomous vehicles.

“Driving is a social activity that involves explicit and implicit communications between humans. Drivers of cars can predict the behavior of pedestrians in part because they have been pedestrians,” he said. “The same goes for pedestrians who have been drivers.

“That understanding facilitates a social communication process where both pedestrians and drivers can anticipate the future actions of each other and act accordingly. We are still struggling with how to teach an autonomous vehicle to be social and interpret the behavior and intentions of pedestrians.”

Contact: 734-764-5296,

Anuj Pradhan, Anuj PradhanAnuj Pradhanassistant research scientist at the U-M Transportation Research Institute, studies autonomous vehicle human factors. He is involved in research investigating pedestrian trust in autonomous vehicles.

“The main issue is communicating intent between autonomous vehicles and other road users. This is an important issue that is still being researched,” he said. “The autonomous vehicle needs to infer the intent of a pedestrian from limited information about the pedestrian’s speed, heading, gait, and a host of other features—something that a human driver does quite naturally.

“Similarly, the pedestrian has to be able to detect the intent of an autonomous vehicle from its speed, heading, slowing-down behaviors, etc. If it were a human driver, this would normally include eye-contact. Current deployments of autonomous vehicles do not communicate their intent externally, other than with the signals we have in all vehicles such as brake lights and turn signals. Other critical factors could be the expectations of other road users—with potentially disastrous results if the expectations of the road user does not match the actual behavior, capabilities, or limitations of the autonomous vehicle.”

Contact: 734-647-9191 or 413-253-1379 (cell),

Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan Matthew Johnson-RobersonRam Vasudevancan discuss pedestrian safety systems and safe control systems in driverless cars. Johnson-Roberson is an assistant professor of naval architecture and marine engineering. Vasudevan is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Contact: Johnson-Roberson: 734-680-5803 (cell),; Vasudevan: 909-967-2456 (cell),

Carrie Morton Carrie MortonCarrie Mortoncan discuss driverless vehicle testing. She is deputy director of Mcity, a U-M-led public-private partnership working to advance next-generation mobility. Mcity operates the Mcity Test Facility—a 32-acre simulated urban and suburban environment for testing autonomous vehicles.

“Twenty percent of traffic fatalities involve a vulnerable road user, which includes pedestrians, making it a critical area of research and testing,” Morton said.

Contact: Via Sue Carney, 734-615-6743,

James Sayer James SayerJames Sayeris director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute and chair of the U-M Mobility Coordinating Committee. He was responsible for the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment, a U.S. Department of Transportation-sponsored program to demonstrate connected-vehicle technologies in a real-world, multimodal environment.

“We have very little detail regarding thespecifics of this tragic loss of life, and we believe that a good deal of work remains to be performed on autonomous vehicle systems,” he said. “UMTRI remains committed to research, verification and the development of safety systems standards to protect all road users.”

Contact: 734-764-4159,