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Tesla is being investigated in wake of first autopilot-related death

By Shawn Knight ยท 36 replies
Jun 30, 2016
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  1. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a “preliminary evaluation” into an accident involving a 40-year-old man that was killed while his Tesla Model S was in autopilot mode.

    This is the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles where autopilot was activated, Tesla said.

    According to the Levy Journal, the accident took place on May 7 in Williston, Florida. The victim, identified as Joshua Brown, was reportedly an active member of the Tesla subreddit. Roughly two months ago, a video of his Model S autopilot avoiding a crash went viral and was even tweeted by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

    In a statement on its website, Tesla said Brown had a loving family and was a friend of both Tesla and the broader EV community.

    According to Tesla, the vehicle was traveling on a divided highway with autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky. As such, the brakes were never applied.

    The car essentially drove “under” the gap of the trailer, making contact with one of its weakest points: the windshield. Had the accident involved the front or the rear of the trailer, Tesla said, its crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury.

    Tesla extended its deepest sympathies to Brown's friends and family.

    Permalink to story.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 1, 2016
  2. ForgottenLegion

    ForgottenLegion TS Guru Posts: 344   +346

    This is how it starts.
    Prepare for major setbacks for autopilot.
  3. EEatGDL

    EEatGDL TS Evangelist Posts: 633   +315

    Sadly, and sad for that guy's family.
    Hexic likes this.
  4. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,427   +594

    After reading what happened neither the driver or the auto system saw this coming so I don't think there will be any fault here.

    You will still have a bunch of haters saying see I told you.

    I would still trust this over human drivers any day!
    DAOWAce, Godel, wastedkill and 2 others like this.
  5. DaveBG

    DaveBG TS Maniac Posts: 388   +143

    If you read the article you will see that autopilot did not caused the accident and even the driver was not able to react. The headline is a click-bait.
    Godel, stewi0001, wastedkill and 2 others like this.
  6. noc81

    noc81 TS Enthusiast Posts: 79   +29

    Just another fine piece of journalism, here at TS.. x\
  7. bazz2004

    bazz2004 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,585   +252

    That's a fascinating and sad story but no doubt the lessons will be built into a revised system. I had no idea that apart from trailblazing the development of the first truly practical electric cars that Tesla were also working on autopiloting. I imagine that at most car dealerships salesmen are trying to impress customers with a couple of USB ports, Bluetooth or a dashboard integrated sat nav. :)
  8. trgz

    trgz TS Addict Posts: 257   +68

    Not wishing to get morbid but how do we know the driver did not 'notice' it coming - could he have been relaxing with his eyes closed or simply looking elsewhere? we'll not know unless there's some blackbox recording or perhaps a few dying words.
    noc81 and Darth Shiv like this.
  9. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,943   +562

    "Neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky."
    Looks like the driver wasn't paying any attention and there was a gap in the autopilot detection. Not a "time to react" issue.
    noc81 and stewi0001 like this.
  10. The article and headline are fine. This was a failure of Tesla's autopilot system that proved fatal, not some unavoidable freak accident.
    noc81 likes this.
  11. Tanstar

    Tanstar TS Evangelist Posts: 658   +202

    The 18 wheeler driver was at fault. A human driver would've seen the trailer and braked though.
    noc81 and Darth Shiv like this.
  12. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,421   +1,821

    Yes, I agree. So, it is an infrared camera (passive) that is failing to differentiate between a solid object and they sky. RADAR, LIDAR, or SONAR, all active systems, would have had no problem with this.

    I am a perennial pessimist when it comes to many companies these days simply because most companies are out to make a profit (really ;) ), and doing so to so many companies these days seems like it means make your product at the lowest possible cost when perhaps spending more on your product makes it a better product worth the extra cost that is passed along to the consumer.

    Who knows what the driving force was for Tesla not to use an active system to confirm objects in front of the car.

    However, Musk formed PayPal. He is NOT an engineer. If Tesla simply tries to improve the algorithm used to differentiate between "the sky" and a "solid object" without resorting to an active system that gives a true indication, perhaps along the lines of what I mentioned above, then you can absolutely bet that this will happen again even with the improved algorithm. IMO, the use of an active system would reduce the chance of something like this happening to near zero - which is where the chances of this should be as lives are in the hands of the vehicle. IMO, you cannot do enough to protect lives with a product like this.

    I would not be surprised if Musk and/or Tesla will try to blame the driver.

    For those self-driving cars that rely on a passive infrared system like this, if you came to an unfinished on ramp somewhere. The road runs out and...WTF happens next???
    noc81 likes this.
  13. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,421   +1,821

    NHSTA would have said the 18 wheeler was at fault. It does not say this in the article. An active detection system on the car would have much more likely detected this and prevented the accident.
    noc81 likes this.

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 1,634   +735

    So does the Tesla autopilot system not use radar or lidar? It is just a camera? Really? If this is the case it sure seems like a step backwards if you ask me.... relying on visuals only. A combination should be used. Sounds like Tesla has some work to do...

    This is sad and terrible news. My condolences to the family.
    noc81 likes this.
  15. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,208   +4,873

    That was my thoughts as well.
    noc81 likes this.
  16. Oolokkip

    Oolokkip TS Rookie

    The car has a radar located in the front lower grill, a forward facing camera in the top part of the windshield and ultrasonic acoustic location sensors around the car. But its far from perfect (I own a model S w/ autopilot) and there is a reason why it is in beta and the driver should never completely rely on it to keep you safe.

    No safety or convenience feature will ever be 100% error free but hopefully every time something horrible like this accident happens, we can try our best to learn from it and improve the safety ever so slightly.
    noc81 and cliffordcooley like this.
  17. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,943   +562

    Fault doesn't really matter in a fatality. I'd much rather be alive and a good defensive driver.
    Tanstar likes this.

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 1,634   +735

    So there was certainly a failure of the software to recognize the safety hazard... but if it is clearly stated in the manual for this vehicle that is in "beta", or "testing" and that the driver should not rely on the system then that is their out. However the problem still exists and hopefully they can find the source and fix it.

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 1,634   +735

    Doesn't matter to who? It matters to the family of the victim I'll bet.

    There is always fault in a fatality and it always matters.


    ^ Sorry... had to.
  20. ... #AllFaultMatters
  21. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,349   +400

    It says your supposed to pay attention while auto pilot is on. Not let go of the wheel and take a nap or whatever this guy was doing. Likely fiddling with his cell phone.
  22. roberthi

    roberthi TS Addict Posts: 344   +94

    This is an argument FOR self-driving cars. If all cars were able to "connect" to each other in a nearby area, they wouldn't need to see anything...they would know what's coming long before it got there.
  23. roberthi

    roberthi TS Addict Posts: 344   +94

    As it stands, it sounds like the driver would have had this accident regardless of autopilot.
  24. roberthi

    roberthi TS Addict Posts: 344   +94

    That doesn't mean you won't end up in a fatal accident...even when everyone else might also be doing the same thing.
  25. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,943   +562

    Of course not but in this case it looks like the driver paying attention would have helped.

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