Tesla Autopilot Feature Linked to a Death (2nd update)


Typical Tesla autopilot dash
Typical Tesla autopilot dash display

After the fatal accident involving a Model S and its Autopilot feature, the system’s co-developer, Mobileye, told TechCrunch in a statement that the system wasn’t designed for such scenarios. The incident, which is now under investigation by government authorities, happened when a tractor trailer made a left turn at an intersection without any traffic lights right in front of the Model S. Tesla said that neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the tractor trailer, which caused the Model S to dive underneath it, resulting in the windshield hitting the bottom of the trailer.

The automatic emergency braking feature in the Model S was designed specifically to avoid rear-end collisions, and yesterday’s incident was one that it couldn’t prevent, according to the statement sent to TechCrunch by Mobileye’s chief communications officer, Dan Galves. He also said that the May 7 incident involved a vehicle crossing laterally, and that current automatic emergency braking systems aren’t designed to react to that kind of hazard. However, by 2018, Mobileye will include Lateral Turn Across Path detection capability in its automatic emergency braking systems, and the feature will also be included as part of the Euro NCAP safety ratings in 2020.

Tesla released a statement yesterday mourning the loss of the driver and reiterating that even with Autopilot active, the driver’s full attention is still required. The EV maker has also announced the launch of update 8.0, according to a report from Electrek. Like previous updates, 8.0 will be added over-the-air and add new features to the car, including additional functions for Autopilot. While we don’t know the true extent of this update yet, one of the features will allow the car to exit off a freeway when in Autopilot once the turn signal is activated. Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer have also been upgraded so that the car will operate in traffic more smoothly.

Electrek also notes that Tesla is referring to software 8.0 as the biggest update to its user interface since the Model S launched. Additional upgrades in the 8.0 update include improved voice commands that no longer require the driver to hold a button to use, and it now shows a transcript of what the system thinks you said on the dashboard. The media player was also updated, but U.S. owners miss out on Spotify, which is available on European-spec Teslas. The TuneIn app for podcasts will also receive an upgrade that now lets you search through artists, songs, and albums.

Currently, update 8.0 is still undergoing beta testing, and it’s unclear if all of its features will make it live. Electrek, however, says that the release may only be a few weeks away or a few months at most. It’s unclear if any of the Autopilot updates are in response to the fatal crash. Automobile Magazine

Driver was watching a movie?

A new twist in the fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S and its semi-autonomous Autopilot system alleges that the driver may have been watching a “Harry Potter" movie at the time of the accident.

The fatal accident occurred in May when a Model S owner was driving his vehicle on a highway in Florida with the Autopilot feature activated. A tractor trailer traveling from the opposite side of the highway attempted to make a left turn in front of the Tesla, but neither the AutoPilot system nor the driver reacted in time to prevent the vehicle from crashing into and under the trailer. The driver died at the scene.

Now, the AP reports that the driver of the truck, Frank Baressi¸ says he heard a “Harry Potter" movie playing in the Tesla following the crash, though he wasn’t able to see where it was coming from in the vehicle. Investigators don’t believe it was playing from the Tesla’s infotainment screen (which would require a hack). However, the report states a portable DVD player was later found in the vehicle, though it’s unclear if it was used at the time of the accident.

The accident is still under investigation. Baressi could face charges for making the unsafe maneuver, though he claims he was unable to see the Model S because it was traveling fast.

Tesla yesterday published a blog post acknowledging the incident, which is the first death involving Autopilot. The automaker pointed out its Autopilot system had logged over 130 million miles prior to the incident and that drivers must always maintain awareness and control of their vehicles at all times. Automobile Magazine

07/01/16 Relatives of the Ohio man who became the first U.S. fatality in a wreck involving a car in self-driving mode say they hope information learned from the tragedy will lead to more innovation and safety improvements.

The statement, released by the family’s attorneys, reads:

On May 7, 2016, Joshua Brown (40) of Canton, Ohio, was killed in a motor vehicle crash in Williston, Florida, caused by a semi tractor-trailer which crossed a divided highway and caused the fatal collision with Josh’s Tesla. Josh was a master Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technician in the US Navy, an exceptional citizen, and a successful entrepreneur. He was a proud member of the Navy’s elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG). Most importantly, he was a loving son and brother.

There has been considerable media speculation since Tesla provided the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NTSHA) with data indicating that the Tesla autopilot system was activated at the time of the crash. While the public’s fascination with this new technology is understandable, the grief which Josh’s family continues to endure is personal and private. Accordingly, the Brown family requests that all communications on this matter be directed to their attorneys Jack Landskroner and Paul Grieco of Landskroner Grieco Merriman.

The investigation into the cause of this crash is ongoing. In honor of Josh’s life and passion for technological advancement, the Brown family is committed to cooperating in these efforts and hopes that information learned from this tragedy will trigger further innovation which enhances the safety of everyone on the roadways.
The Canton man was so enamored with his Tesla Model S sedan that he nicknamed the car “Tessy" and praised the safety benefits of its sophisticated “Autopilot" system.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Brown’s death Thursday, and said it is investigating the design and performance of the Autopilot system.

Brown was killed May 7 when his car’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate its brakes, according to statements by the government and the automaker.

Just one month earlier, Brown had credited the Autopilot system for preventing a collision on an interstate. The Associated Press reported Friday that Ohio driving records showed that Brown had 8 speeding tickets in 6 years.

Sixty-two-year-old Frank Baressi, the driver of the truck and owner of Okemah Express LLC, said the Tesla driver was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen" at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him." Fox 8

06/30/16 U.S. auto-safety regulators are investigating Tesla Motors Inc.’s autopilot feature after a motorist using the system died in Florida, ratcheting up scrutiny of the Silicon Valley electric-vehicle company’s highly-touted technology and driverless cars more broadly.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a so-called preliminary evaluation into the design and performance of automated driving systems in Tesla’s Model S, the agency said Thursday. A preliminary evaluation is an initial official probe by the agency and could later be elevated to a more significant engineering analysis if widespread, significant problems are found. It isn’t an official determination that a defect exists in the vehicle.

Regulators opened the probe after Tesla alerted them to a fatal highway crash in Williston, Fla., May 7 in which a 2015 Model S was using the autopilot feature. The crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla car at an intersection of a noncontrolled access highway, the agency said, citing preliminary reports. The driver died in the crash.

Tesla in a lengthy statement on its website said the crash represented “the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated." The company said it informed regulators immediately after the crash occurred.

“NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation will examine the design and performance of the automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash," the agency said in a statement. “During the preliminary evaluation, NHTSA will gather additional data regarding this incident and other information regarding the automated driving systems." Mike Spector, The Wall Street Journal – June 30, 2016

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