If you need any further evidence that Tesla was irresponsible with the release of its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system, apparently the technology was never designed to avoid the type of situation that resulted in 40-year-old Joshua Brown losing his life on May 7, 2016 in Williston, Fla.
Mobileye is an Israeli company that builds the vision-based driver assistance system. In a statement, Mobileye said its technology is designed specifically to avoid rear-end collisions, not what led to the fatal crash.
“We have read the account of what happened in this case. Today’s collision avoidance technology, or Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), is defined as rear-end collision avoidance, and is designed specifically for that. This [fatal] incident involved a laterally crossing vehicle, which current-generation AEB systems are not designed to actuate upon. Mobileye systems will include Lateral Turn Across Path (LTAP) detection capabilities beginning in 2018, and the Euro NCAP safety ratings will include this beginning in 2020.”
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said preliminary reports indicated that the crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla, and the car failed to apply the brakes. Tesla said “neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”
This is the first known fatal accident involving a self-driving car, casting some doubt on whether autonomous vehicles can consistently make split-second, life-or-death driving decisions on the highway.
In May 2016, just days after testifying to Congress that self-driving cars aren’t ready for mass deployment, Missy Cummings joined The Robotics Trends Show to discuss how irresponsible Tesla had been by releasing Autopilot to the public.
The Associated Press reports that a DVD player was found in the wreckage of the fatal crash. The driver of the tractor trailer said Brown was watching Harry Potter at the time of the crash. The AP didn’t confirm that.
But if Autopilot can’t see and avoid vehicles crossing laterally in front of it, there’s no way it’s ready for the roads.
A diagram from the police report about the Tesla crash shows how the vehicle in self-driving mode (V02) struck a tractor-trailer (V01) as it was turning left. (Credit Florida Highway Patrol via New York Times)