Report: Uber cut back LiDAR sensors in new Volvo fleet

While we're still awaiting the results of the investigation into last week's fatal Uber crash, we're left wondering who or what was at fault. Even though video of the accident exists, we're still not sure what caused it – did the car's autonomous driving systems fail in some way, or can this accident be blamed on some other oversight? That's what this investigation aims to discover, but while we wait for the results, a new report levels some fairly serious accusations at Uber.

According to Reuters, Uber's transition from a fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions to Volvo XC90s was more than just an aesthetic change. Reuters reports that Uber cut back on the number of LiDAR sensors present on its autonomous vehicles when it made the switch, going from the seven sensors that were present on the Ford Fusion to just one in the Volvo XC90.

LiDAR is a crucial component for autonomous driving systems, as it helps detect objects in a 360-degree circle around the vehicle. Primary LiDAR sensors typically sit on the roofs of autonomous vehicles, just like what you see with the XC90 pictured above. While that's the sole LiDAR sensor on Uber's current fleet of autonomous vehicles, other cars typically have smaller sensors placed on the sides and front to help compensate for the blind spots of the main, rooftop one.

Instead of installing those additional LiDAR sensors on its XC90s, it seems that Uber planned to compensate with additional radars instead – the XC90 uses 10 radar sensors, while older Ford Fusions only used 7. Even then, Uber also cut back on the total number of cameras on the XC90, dropping from the 20 that were found on its Ford Fusions to just 7 with this newer fleet.

The result is a sleeker looking autonomous vehicle, but now the question becomes whether or not scaling back on sensor count ultimately played a part in this fatal accident. Reuters spoke to Velodyne, the company that makes the XC90's rooftop LiDAR sensor, which said that an autonomous vehicle should have side-mounted LiDAR to help it avoid pedestrians.

To be clear, this report doesn't claim that the XC90's fewer safety sensors were responsible for the accident. There are any number of possible reasons why the accident occurred, so we're just going to have to wait for the results of the ongoing investigation to know for sure. Still, this report will probably raise new questions at a time when Uber is already facing rather intense scrutiny. Stay tuned.