Tesla autopilot crashes


#1

Condolences to the driver’s family. And too bad for Tesla, a blemish on their remarkable car. One strange thing: the autopilot tells you to “keep your hands on the wheel.” Huh? Then what’s the point of having an autopilot? Apparently the driver did not follow that advisory or was not paying attention enough to notice the truck turning in front of him.

The problem with an autopilot is, if you provide one in your car, people will assume it works. But the Tesla autopilot was reportedly only a “beta” version, and now we learn it can’t see a giant white truck in bright sun. Who would trust their life to a “beta” version of software? I’m really surprised Tesla would do such a thing. Maybe a better approach would have been to prevent the autopilot from being engaged over, say, 25 mph, until the bugs were worked out. Letting people use a “beta” version of an autopilot at 70 mph but telling them to keep their hands on the wheel? What could possibly go wrong? Teslas sound remarkably well engineered, but this is one boneheaded engjneering decision.

Google self-driving cars have not had a fatal accident in millions of miles driven, but with a max speed of only 25 mph, I guess they don’t go on the highway.


#2

I agree, we are a long way from actual self-driving cars.

As a recent article in Scientific American pointed out, a partial solution (such as this one) is not acceptable, as you can’t depend on a human operator taking over in an emergency. It’s all (complete AI, able to make all decisions correctly) or nothing.


#3

It’s all (complete AI, able to make all decisions correctly) or nothing.

Yes, that’s the bottom line. People will use autopilots so they don’t have to pay attention or keep their hands on the wheel. Otherwise it should be called “cruise control,” not “autopilot.”

This excerpt from The Verge is relevant:

“Some autonomous driving experts have criticized Tesla for introducing the Autopilot feature so early, with a Volvo engineer saying the system “gives you the impression that it’s doing more than it is.” In other words, the car handles most situations so smoothly that drivers are led to believe that the car can handle any situation it might encounter. That is not the case, and the driver must remain responsible for the actions of the vehicle, even with Autopilot active. Several automakers working on systems similar to Autopilot — GM with Super Cruise, for instance — have only tested the feature privately and have said they won’t deploy until they’re ready.”


#4

It has also come to light that the driver (now deceased) had accumulated 8 speeding convictions during the past 6 years. There could well be more to this story, so I wouldn’t be too quick to ascribe all of the blame to Tesla’s system.


#5

Basically for the past 100 years the govt has left the auto industry alone when it comes to new features unless it has something to do emissions. Safety problems in some vehicles have cropped up over the years, but the govt had no say before new features were introduced.

This is one feature I’d like to see govt oversight BEFORE its introduced to the general public.


#6
The problem with an autopilot is, if you provide one in your car, people will assume it works.

I said this over on another car geek site. The problem is not with the “auto pilot.” It works fine, for how it was designed. The problem is that Musk has been running around using the word “auto pilot” when at best he should have called it “lane-keeper assist” like other car companies with very similar systems do.

Musk really, really likes to brag. Oftentimes, his bragging is backed up. His other company gently landed the first stage of a spaceship on a freaking barge out at sea for later re-use. Thrice! And even Tesla has accomplished miracles. They’ve made a comfortable car that can easily do 250 miles on a charge without having to make compromises from what people today are used to having in cars. They’ve got people who couldn’t give two flying rips about electric cars wanting to buy an electric car because the Model S is a desirable car on its own merits. That’s amazing.

But other times, his bragging gets him in trouble. This is one of those times. I know that there’s legalese buried in the signing papers that says something to the effect of “Don’t let the car drive itself unsupervised, idiot,” but that’s like those old TV ads for BMX bikes showing kids thrashing the things off of jumps that had tiny little text at the bottom saying “don’t actually do this.” You know full well that kid is going to be flying that bike off the first jump he finds the minute he gets his hands on that bike. And if you tell people your car has an autopilot, they’re going to take you seriously and use it as an autopilot, even if you hide a statement somewhere saying it’s not really an autopilot, which it isn’t.


#7

The problem is that Musk has been running around using the word “auto pilot” when at best he should have called it “lane-keeper assist” like other car companies with very similar systems do.

Yes, I see GM is calling theirs “SuperCruise” or something like that, which seems to be a more accurate name than “autopilot,” which is bound to give some people a false sense of confidence.

Seems also that GM’s SuperCruise rollout is being delayed, which they may be not so unhappy about, since Tesla may have to rethink how they market their “autopilot” and how they “train” drivers to use it…if they do any training at all.


#8
I'd like to see govt oversight BEFORE its introduced to the general public

With all due respect, Mike, given my personal experiences with NHTSA, that statement bothers me. Those with the job of government “oversight” mandated (FMVSS 208) airbags in 1984 that killed 50 - 60 people because they were required to work without seatbelts. NHTSA later amended that standard in 1998 to require dual front airbags with lower power.

The GM division I worked for hosted NHTSA to demonstrate ABS performance on split coefficient of friction surfaces (2 tires on ice/2 on asphalt) that NHSTA’s own people said couldn’t be done. It was state of the art and offered for sale from ALL ABS manufacturers for over 3 years at the time of that demo.

I don’t trust a bunch of isolated academics to mandate the development or even the specifications of products we all buy. They aren’t innovators, they have NO idea what creative people can and will do. Regulation has its place and places it needs to step back and watch and learn.

That said, in this case and many others, the system of civil litigation in the US will punish Tesla very harshly for this “beta” test in the hands of the consumer. The fear of hungry lawyers is a huge motivator for LOTS of extra testing and well as a damper on innovation.

This will set back vehicle automation development by years, IMHO.


#9

That said, in this case and many others, the system of civil litigation in the US will punish Tesla very harshly for this “beta” test in the hands of the consumer.

You may be right. Why on earth would they put “beta” software in a car where un-trained drivers can “test” it by driving 70 mph on the freeway and taking their hands off the wheel? That’s just asking for a lawsuit.

It’s like telling consumers, hey, here’s a “beta” version of our new tires. Please test them for us at 70 mph, but be sure to keep your hands on the steering wheel because we’re not sure yet whether the tires will blow out when you hit a pothole. Meanwhile, we’ll keep debugging the “beta” tires and give you better ones later.


#10

I think any decent lawyer can make the case that this was a foreseeable action of the driver. Autopilot ON, let’s watch a video! Mistakes like this can take down a company, especially one as small as Tesla.


#11

I don’t know that it would sink Tesla. Musk has over 12 billion dollars. He can keep them afloat through any foreseeable judgment that isn’t covered by insurance. It’s very doubtful Tesla will have to pay out even a significant fraction of the cash Musk can then rescue them with.


#12

One news cast this morning noted that this was the first fatality in over 130,000,000 miles for auto pilot. The average for all vehicles is 1 fatality every 94 million miles.


#13

This reminds me of a story from many years ago, when the Shaw was still in power and the Iranians were our friends. We trained their pilots. Their pilots came from well to do families and lived pretty good while training in the US. They are trained to use the auto-pilot in their planes.

So one of them bought himself a brand new camper van, fully equipped. He wrecked it within half hour of taking delivery. When he was asked what happened, he responded that everything seemed to be going well so he put it on cruise control and went to the back to get a beer and it just went off the road.


#14

I’d be surprised if Tesla had any insurance of any kind. Companies that size usually self-insure. Musk personally may have 12 Billion but he won’t use HIS money to save it. Tesla is owned by the stockholders and is financed for working capital by banks and investment houses. It would make more sense to file for bankruptcy and re-form the company much like GM did.


#15

" This reminds me of a story from many years ago, when the Shaw (SIC) was still in power…We trained their pilots…They are trained to use the auto-pilot in their planes… everything seemed to be going well so he put it on cruise control and went to the back to get a beer and it just went off the road."

Yikes!
Somebody else who hears an urban legend, and actually believes it.
I don’t think that our old ally–The SHAH of Iran–would have appreciated that barrage of misinformation.


#16

@VDCdriver what part of “story” did you not understand? I was in the Navy when I heard this story, what we called a sea story. Do you know the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale? A fairy tale starts off “Once upon a time…”

Some people have no sense of humor.


#17

Oh by the way, thanks for the link, it reminded me of the Winnebago version (Navy style). Mr. and Mrs. Grazinski were on a long lonely stretch of highway out west. The were taking turns driving and sleeping and it was Mrs. Grazinski’s turn to drive while Mr. Grazinski slept in the back.

After a couple of hours with nothing to do, Mrs. Grazinski figured the cruize control was doing a pretty good job so she went to the back and climbed in bed with her husband. They began to enjoy the rocking of the RV and were starting to (yada yada yada) when Mr. Grazinski suddenly asked, who’s driving? At this point the RV left the road and crashed.


#18
hose with the job of government "oversight" mandated (FMVSS 208) airbags in 1984 that killed 50 - 60 people because they were required to work without seatbelts.

And without govt mandate…not one manufacturer would have seatbelts or air-bags. And how many lives have they saved? HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS.


#19

“what part of “story” did you not understand? …Some people have no sense of humor.”

Trust me, I have a very good sense of humor.
You did not provide any indication that this “story” was actually the fable that it really is.
Because you did not indicate that it was a fable, I had to set the record straight, so that such misinformation is not continually bandied-about as fact.


#20

@VDCdriver I guess you and I don’t interpret story the same way.