Autopilot is Here to Stay, Says Musk, as NHTSA Delves Deeper Into Fatal Crash
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has no plans to remove the Autopilot feature from his vehicles, despite demands from safety and consumer groups.
Musk told the Wall Street Journal that lack of education is the problem, not the technology behind the semi-autonomous driving system. The executive’s comments come after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration delivered a lengthy list of questions to Tesla as part of its investigation into the fatal May 7 crash of a Model S.
Autopilot is continually updated based on user feedback — a practice called “beta testing” that was criticized in this case, as the product is a system that can pilot a vehicle. The system could lead to overconfidence in its abilities, creating a dangerous situation for some drivers.
Musk told the WSJ that he wanted Autopilot in vehicles at an early point in its development, because “we knew we had a system that on balance would save lives.” In the wake of the May crash (which is partially blamed on the Autopilot failing to recognize and react to a transport truck) and a July 1 rollover, Musk plans to better educate owners.
A blog post on Tesla’s website will spell out how to properly operate Autopilot. “A lot of people don’t understand what it is and how you turn it on,” Musk told the WSJ.
As Musk talked Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did the same in a letter to Mathew Schwall, Tesla’s director of field performance engineering. The July 8 letter, acquired by the New York Times, throws a list of data-heavy demands at the automaker as the agency gets serious in its investigation.
Among other things, the NHTSA wants to know of all of the times Autopilot helped a driver avoid a collision via any of its automated functions (Autosteer, automatic emergency braking, and collision warning chime), as well as all of the complaints, suits and other actions by owners who claim Autopilot failed to stop one. It also wants to know of every modification or refinement made to the technology, and an explanation of how the system identified obstacles. Tesla will have to hand over its reconstruction of the fatal crash.
In short, the agency wants the entire operational history of the system in Tesla vehicles, and its development history, too. Depending on the request, the automaker has until July 29 or August 26 to hand over the data.
The national Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the May 7 crash.
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