Tesla Faces Backlash Over Autopilot Technology in Wake of Crash

tesla faces backlash over autopilot technology in wake of crash

Safety advocates are claiming Tesla’s reputation as a leading innovator in the automotive world could breed overconfidence in its new technology, putting drivers in danger.

The May 7 death of a Tesla driver whose vehicle collided with a tractor trailer while in “Autopilot” mode sparked renewed calls for proper vetting of advanced technology in production vehicles — especially if the technology allows the vehicle to drive itself.

Joshua Brown was killed on a Florida highway after his 2015 Tesla Model S’s Autopilot mistook a brightly-lit tractor trailer crossing the highway as the sky. The autonomous driving system didn’t react to the obstacle, leading to a fatal collision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now investigating the Model S and its Autopilot system.

Following the crash, the truck’s driver, Frank Baressi, claimed the victim was watching a movie at the time of the crash, saying he could hear the film Harry Potter playing from the Tesla’s wreckage.

Tesla vehicles can’t play videos on their infotainment screens, but Reuters now reports that the Florida Highway Patrol found a portable, aftermarket DVD player in the wreckage of Brown’s vehicle. Brown was a great fan of Tesla and its Autopilot technology, uploading many dashcam videos to his YouTube page, including one showing the system avoiding a collision with a truck earlier this year.

Police said no video recording device — mounted to the dash or elsewhere — was found in the wreckage.

Tesla markets the Autopilot system as a driver’s aid, maintaining that drivers still need to be aware of their surroundings and ready to respond to danger while the system is activated. The mere presence of the technology, however, could lead to overconfidence in its abilities.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, criticized the practice of “beta” testing — having consumers test and help improve new technology through real-world use.

“Allowing automakers to do their own testing, with no specific guidelines, means consumers are going to be the guinea pigs in this experiment,” said Gillan. “This is going to happen again and again and again.”

Joan Claybrook, automotive safety advocate and former NHTSA director, said the “trial-and-error technique” is a threat to public safety.

“The history of the auto industry is they test and test and test,” she told Bloomberg. “This is a life-and-death issue.”

Expect the Florida crash to make other automakers extra cautious about perfecting their own autonomous driving technology (or semi-autonomous driving aids) before making it available in production vehicles. In March, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind gave the regulator a six month timeline in which to create federal rules for self-driving cars.

[Image: Tesla Motors]

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  • NMGOM NMGOM on Jul 04, 2016

    Coming here late: Looks like everyone has thoroughly commented on this "backlash" issue. Already gave some perspectives on this technology in the first Tesla post: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/06/nhtsa-investigating-tesla-model-s-following-fatal-autopilot-crash/ Please check these experiments, data, analysis we had done in the late 1990's in the link above. Just some emphasis: 1) There is no such thing now as a completely autonomous vehicle, and will not be reliably available earlier than perhaps 2025-2030. It is foolish to pretend otherwise. 2) One real test of what defined an "autonomous vehicle" in 2004 is recapped here: "The ultimate success of AI-based vehicle systems was judged to be SLEEP! If you can take a nap and/or have NO ability or desire to intervene, — EVER — then the AI system would be seen as successful as your being a passenger with a competent spouse (or others) doing the driving." 3) A real autonomous vehicle will have to handle a white-out snowstorm with pavement substrate coated with ice. (Not simple, but yes, I drive successfully, albeit awkwardly, in this stuff routinely in January and February in WI.) 4) Toyota and some others are to be praised for going slow and thorough with testing this technology. In fact, BMW had this to say: "On this very topic, BMW (CEO Harald Krueger) just announced BMW will be the “#1 in autonomous driving” — but in 2021 and beyond. His comment was that current technology is just not ready for “serious production”. And: “we need those next years”. http://www.autonews.com/article/20160701/VIDEO/307019998/autonews-now-fca-ford-nissan-gain-in-june-toyota-gm-slip?cciid=email-autonews-anno" 5) Tesla's use of the triumphalist term, "Autopilot" may have been unfortunate. Psychologically, to me at least, it implies more capability than actually exists, and others may feel greater confidence in the current Tesla system than is wise. As some have pointed out, a more restrained, less absolute, perhaps less bravado-filled term may have been better. 6) Heuristic computer systems, taught to anticipate future events in difficult traffic/road situations, --- coupled with five (5) types of "surround sensing" and GPS road-location capability --- will be essential for approaching AND exceeding "proper" human accident-avoidance capability, but it can eventually be done. Will that be inexpensive and add just a mere $5,000 to the price of a vehicle? Probably not. ====================

  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Jul 06, 2016

    I can only say what people smarter that me said half a decade ago: this _will_not_work_, semi-autonomous driving doesn't work when it is immersed in a sea of regular cars. We either make the switch completely (outlaw all cars that are not autonomous) or stop offering potentially dangerous technology. Where is Ralph Nader when you need him? And yes, I am referring to Isaac Asimov's Sally (1954)

    • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 06, 2016

      While I agree with the author, the words and the sentiment, SC, there is only one way you could make that work: You would have to remove ALL non-autonomous cars from the road en-masse and issue auto-pilot-equipped cars to all drivers, again, en-masse. In some countries you might get away with that, but here in the US that would be fought every step of the way. People would hide their favorite non-autonomous car in the same way the last remaining EV-1 in private hands was hidden and the mere act of taking that car out on the road would have to be confiscated on sight--possibly at the risk of getting shot by the driver in some parts of the country. No, while it is a nice idea, the only way people will truly accept them is if such technology becomes mandated to where NO new vehicle can be sold without the technology on board and activated by default. Moreover, manual control will have to be gradually removed and ultimately limited to off-road purposes or destination maneuvering such as driveways and work sites.

  • Rich Benkwitt I’ll take that red and white 2 door and I guess the 4 banger so I can have the manual tranny just like my 1969 Bronco. I have my Wildtrak on order now waiting impatiently!
  • Theflyersfan I was living in one part of the world when China and Russia were completing their 21st century scramble of Africa. They were pumping billions into the economies of these countries building new dams, bridges, skyscrapers, freeways/toll roads, utilities, power plants, you know - projects that would benefit the average resident of said location. All they wanted in exchange were the mineral, mining, fishing, timber, etc., rights of said location. And they got them. So during that era when they were looking at global expansion, we were fighting unwinnable wars and our "leaders" on the left were yelling at the "leaders" on the right and vice versa, and what happens when all you do is stare and focus on one thing like DC is known to do? The world moves on around you. And that's what happened here.We had the same opportunity to build Africa up and to make the same deals as other countries, but our "nation building" tends to take place via the conversion from something solid and standing to something in pieces and in rubble. So it looks like we'll continue to have to deal with hostile nations holding our feet into the fire and working through their many geopolitical issues just so we can continue to get cheap electronics and necessary materials in our manufacturing just because we decided around 40+ years ago to ship it all overseas because we wanted to save 50 cents on a pack of socks and the CEOs needed their next quarterly statement to look even better to the shareholders so they could increase their pay and bonuses, consequences be damned.
  • DweezilSFV I didn't think GM could make a worse looking truck than their full-sizers.Success.
  • DweezilSFV GM. Still trying to make OnStar happen.And still the answer to a question no one ever asked.
  • Corey Lewis Look, here's the voice warning record player!http://japanesenostalgiccar.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/datsun_810_maxima_voice_box.jpg