Investigation into driverless technology accident

Tesla Model S in production at the companys California manufacturing facility (Image courtesy of Tesla)
Tesla autonomous driver featured to be investigated.

United States authorities have launched an investigation into Tesla's autopilot feature after the death of a driver on May 7.

According to the BBC, the car’s driver, Joshua Brown, 40, died in Florida following a collision with a lorry.

Tesla’s autopilot feature, which reacts to traffic and automatically changes lanes, is being investigated in connection with the accident.

Online publication BigThink.com provided some more detail about the incident. Here’s what we know: “Put simply, a Tesla Model S failed to see an oncoming threat. The vehicle was driving down a highway with the Autopilot system engaged, while a [truck and] trailer was driving across the highway; perpendicular to the Model S. But against the bright sky, the Model S’s camera could not see the white side of the tractor-tailor.”

Despite being aware of the May 7 accident, on May 18 and 19, Tesla raised $1.46bn from investors. Due to the importance of the issue, the company has been criticised for not informing the public of the incident until June 30, when a probe was announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Tesla and NHTSA official statements

Tesla has released a statement which said this is “the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated”. The statement went on to explain that the NHTSA action is a “preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations”.

Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.

It also stated that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it.

“The system also makes frequent checks to ensure that the driver’s hands remain on the wheel and provides visual and audible alerts if hands-on is not detected. It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.

“The customer who died in this crash had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss. He was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission.

“We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

The NHTSA said in a statement: “The opening of the Preliminary Evaluation should not be construed as a finding that the Office of Defects Investigation believes there is either a presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles.”