Tesla’s latest Autopilot crash is just one of many problems it is now dealing with

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A fatal crash, production problems and now a recall.

Tesla is starting the second quarter in a defensive crouch:

  • Last week, the company revealed that Autopilot, its semi autonomous feature, was engaged during a recent fatal crash in California — its second confirmed Autopilot-related fatality in the U.S.
  • Tesla is struggling to meet its production goals for the Model 3, its first-ever mass-market car. Today, CEO Elon Musk reportedly said the company is producing 2,000 Model 3s a week — 500 short of his goal, which has been adjusted twice.
  • Last week, Tesla voluntarily recalled 123,000 of its Model S luxury sedans to fix a power-steering issue. That is a lot of cars — close to half of all the vehicles the company has produced.
  • Tesla stock is down about 36 percent since its September 2017 peak.

By the company’s own admission, this is a critical time for Tesla. The electric vehicle movement the company arguably popularized is seeing momentum from new and existing players, while self-driving competitors like Alphabet’s Waymo strike deals with automakers to develop vehicles that could rival Tesla’s own offerings. As both an automaker and a self-driving tech company, Tesla still has a lot to prove.

The crash

It’s not yet known whether Autopilot was at fault for 38-year-old Tesla driver Walter Huang’s death, but the simple fact that it was involved has put Tesla’s already fraught future — as well as the self-driving industry — at risk.

On March 23, Huang crashed his Model X into a median on a California highway while the SUV was operating in Autopilot mode. Tesla recovered the logs from the vehicle, and upon analyzing them said that the driver had received “several visual and one audible” cue to take back control of the car.

“The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken,” the company wrote in a blog post.

This is the second U.S. crash of a Tesla confirmed to be operating Autopilot that has led to a fatality. The first was in Williston, Fla., in May 2016.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is also investigating the March 23 crash, found that the first Autopilot-related fatality in 2016 was in part a result of the driver overrelying on Tesla’s semiautonomous software, but that Autopilot operated the way it was supposed to.

The NTSB’s investigation into this crash is ongoing, but the agency said that it was “unhappy” that Tesla revealed the details of the investigation to the public. The NTSB is also looking into reports that the driver previously complained about the performance of the Autopilot software.

Relatives of Huang said that he took his Tesla to the dealership because the software caused the car to swerve toward the highway barrier that his vehicle ultimately crashed into.

A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment on the NTSB’s comments but said they found no record of Huang bringing the vehicle into a dealership to service its Autopilot software.

“We’ve been doing a thorough search of our service records and we cannot find anything suggesting that the customer ever complained to Tesla about the performance of Autopilot,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement. “There was a concern raised once about navigation not working correctly, but Autopilot’s performance is unrelated to navigation.”

The fallout

The tragic death comes as both the industry and Tesla brace for the fallout from a recent fatality that involved an Uber-operated semi-autonomous vehicle in Tempe, Ariz.

The NTSB, along with local police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is also investigating the Uber crash, which resulted in the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg.

Both crashes hit at a larger question many in the industry have: Is semi-autonomous technology safe?

With Uber and Tesla being two of the most prominent brands in the auto and tech industry working on some version of self-driving, consumer trust in the new technology could take a hit.

When it launched Autopilot, Tesla set the benchmark for the most advanced adaptive cruise control available in consumer vehicles. That technology has received multiple updates, and Musk has said he expects the second generation of the software to be capable of a high level of self-driving in about two years.

However, as it exists today, Autopilot is not intended to operate in all circumstances, and in fact is limited to highway driving. In other words, drivers need to be alert and ready to take over at all times — which creates an odd situation that is now clearly prone to failure.

That was also the case in Uber’s crash: The system relies on a trained operator to take over when the technology doesn’t work, though there are some important distinctions that need to be made between the two. For instance, Uber’s technology, which is still in development, is intended to operate on local roads with variables including pedestrians. Tesla’s Autopilot is only supposed to ease the highway-driving task.

Uber’s vehicles, however, are not available to the wider public, and are not being sold direct to consumers. Tesla, which says its technology is also still in beta, is putting its technology in the hands of consumers. Still, if either of the companies’ semiautonomous software is found to be at fault, there could be a resounding impact on consumer trust around self-driving.

“The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe,” Tesla wrote in a blog post. “There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year.”

Production woes

Tesla’s voluntary recall of 123,000 Model S cars punctuated its ongoing struggles with meeting production goals of its mass-market vehicle, the Model 3.

The Model 3 is a significant barometer by which investors and the industry are measuring Tesla’s capability as an automaker. Can Tesla make the shift away from being just a luxury player to a mass-market carmaker at scale?

By Musk’s own admission, the early years of Tesla — from the Roadster to the Model X — were in service of laying the groundwork for building and selling a mass-market electric vehicle.

But the company has gotten off to a rough start in meeting the many ambitious goals Musk has set for the production of the vehicle.

In July 2017, Musk said that he aimed to produce 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week by the end of 2017. The company then shifted that rate goal to 5,000 cars per week by the end of March 2018. But then in January, Musk lowered that goal to 2,500.

Today, Tesla is producing 2,000 Model 3s a week, according to emails obtained by Jalopnik.

“If things go as planned today, we will comfortably exceed that number over a seven-day period!” Musk wrote, referring to the current rate of production.

The company’s head of engineering also tried to rally the troops last week, saying the company needed to prove the “haters” wrong, as Bloomberg first reported.

“The world is watching us very closely, to understand one thing: How many Model 3s can Tesla build in a week?” Doug Field wrote. “This is a critical moment in Tesla’s history, and there are a number of reasons it’s so important. You should pick the one that hits you in the gut and makes you want to win.”

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The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it is "unhappy" that Tesla released information about the fiery March 23rd crash that killed a driver. In a blog post last Friday, Elon Musk said that the Autopilot was active when the Model str…
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Tesla: Autopilot was engaged in fatal Model X crash

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After a fiery crash in Mountain View, CA last week killed the driver of a Tesla Model X, the company provided an update on the incident with a blog post. It did not name the driver, identified by ABC 7 News as Apple engineer and former EA programmer…
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Tesla says Autopilot was engaged during fatal Model X crash

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Tesla says Autopilot was engaged at the time of a deadly Model X crash that occurred March 23rd in Mountain View, California. The company posted a statement online late Friday, after local news reported that the victim had made several complaints to Tesla about the vehicle’s Autopilot technology prior to the crash in which he died.

After recovering the logs from the crash site, Tesla acknowledged that Autopilot was on, with the adaptive cruise control follow distance set to a minimum. The company also said that the driver, identified as Apple engineer Wei “Walter” Huang, had his hands off the steering wheel and was not responding to warnings to re-take control.

The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning…

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Apple Engineer Who Died in Tesla Crash Complained About Its Software

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An Apple engineer who died last Friday, when the new Tesla Model X he was driving crashed into a barrier, may have brought up concerns about the vehicle’s Autopilot functionality previously. Walter Huang, 38, died in the accident in Mountain View, California when he was on his way to work at Apple. The Tesla Model […]
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Uber Settles with Family of AV Crash Victim

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Uber has reached a settlement with the family of Elaine Herzberg, the 49-year-old woman struck and killed by one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles (AVs) on March 18. The terms of the Uber settlement were not disclosed.

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“The matter has been resolved,” the family’s lawyer Cristina Perez Hesano told Reuters. The firm representing Herzberg’s daughter and husband said the two would not comment further on Herzberg’s death.

The Uber saga may be over for Herzberg’s family, but it continues for the company and other AV manufacturers.

Earlier this week, Arizona governor Doug Ducey banned Uber from testing its AVs in the state, though the company had already suspended all testing across the nation. Two other AV manufacturers, Toyota and Nvidia, also suspended their AV testing on public roads in the wake of the accident.

Neither Toyota nor Nvidia gave any indication they were suspending testing for fear of their own AVs causing similar accidents, though. Toyota said the suspension was out of concern that the accident may have “an emotional effect” on its drivers, while Nvidia’s Chief Executive Jensen Huang said it was out of respect for the victim.

The dozens of other AV manufacturers appear determined to continue moving forward with testing.

“The tragedy in Arizona is something that I think should give everyone pause,” Lyft President John Zimmer told reporters on Tuesday. “But you also have to remember the goal of autonomy — where you have about a hundred people dying every day from vehicle-related accidents  and the goal I think is to take that to zero.”

If it took autonomous [vehicles] one day more because of this to get to market, that could be a hundred people’s lives that are at risk,” Zimmer continued.

Hopefully, the Uber settlement will give Herzberg’s family the ability to begin to move on from this tragedy. Officials will continue to investigate the accident to see what, if anything, could have prevented it.

The post Uber Settles with Family of AV Crash Victim appeared first on Futurism.


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Uber’s fatal self-driving crash: all the news and updates

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On March 18th, a 49-year-old woman was struck by a self-driving Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. She was transported to the hospital, where she died. In the aftermath, Uber’s self-driving program is hanging on by a thread, while the rest of the industry debates the speed in which these vehicles were being rushed to market. It is widely seen as the first person to be killed by an autonomous vehicle.

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Chipmaker Nvidia is suspending its self-driving testing after Uber’s fatal crash

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The company says it needs to learn more about the Uber accident.

The fallout from the fatal crash involving an autonomous Uber vehicle continues.

Nvidia, which supplies chips for Uber’s self-driving cars, said it’s temporarily suspending all of its self-driving tests on public roads to learn more about last week’s crash in Arizona, a company spokesperson told Recode.

“The accident was tragic,” Nvidia spokesperson Fazel Adabi said in a statement. “It’s a reminder of how difficult SDC technology is and that it needs to be approached with extreme caution and the best safety technologies.” SDC refers to self-driving cars.

Other self-driving car companies have also suspended their testing, including Toyota and nuTonomy, which is developing self-driving software. Uber halted all of its testing immediately after the crash.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey yesterday suspended Uber’s self-driving tests in the state indefinitely. He sent a letter to Uber saying the company failed to comply with the expectation that public safety be the top priority for the companies that operate self-driving cars on Arizona roads.

“In the best interest of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber’s ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona’s public roadways,” Ducey wrote in his letter. “Arizona will not tolerate any less than an unequivocal commitment to public safety.”

It’s a complete about-face for Ducey, who welcomed Uber into the state with open arms after the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the ride-hail company’s vehicle registrations. The DMV said Uber did not properly register the vehicles as autonomous test cars.

In Arizona, Waymo continues to test and operate vehicles with and without safety drivers. Ducey has long been friendly to autonomous technology and issued an executive order to establish a self-driving vehicle oversight committee in 2015.

City of Boston officials have also temporarily suspended testing.

As companies and regulators alike respond to the self-driving-related pedestrian death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, the National Transportation Safety Board as well as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and local Arizona police are continuing their investigation into the crash. Fault has yet to be determined, but the fallout has been brisk.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik said he is confident the company’s technology would have been able to handle the situation, based on the video of the crash that local Arizona police made public.

“Really all that we can say is based on our knowledge of what we’ve seen so far … and our own knowledge of the robustness that we’ve designed into our systems. … In situations like that one — in this case of a pedestrian or a pedestrian with a bicycle — we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one,” Krafcik said at the National Automobile Dealership Association conference.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment.

Advocacy groups like Consumer Watchdog have already called for a national moratorium on self-driving tests and called on the NHTSA to collect more data about the technology before making changes to federal guidelines for testing autonomous vehicles.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has previously voiced his skepticism about the self-driving bill being considered in the U.S. Senate, said the crash indicated that the technology is far from ready.

“Congress must take concrete steps to strengthen the AV START Act with the kind of safeguards that will prevent future fatalities,” he said in a statement on Monday. “In our haste to enable innovation, we cannot forget basic safety.”

Both federal and local regulators will continue to be forced to confront the many questions over how to regulate this technology as consumer trust in it gradually deteriorates.

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Uber suspended from autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona following fatal crash

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Uber has been suspended from testing autonomous vehicles in the state of Arizona following last week’s fatal crash in the city of Tempe, according to the Associated Press. The accident, which occurred at night and coincided with autonomous test driver Rafaela Vasquez looking down right before the moment of impact, left pedestrian 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg dead.

It is likely the first death caused by a self-driving vehicle, and the aftermath of the event has been severe for Uber, with the company immediately suspending self-driving operations in the state amid a US National Transportation Safety Board investigation. The Tempe Police Department is also conducting an investigation, which will eventually be turned over to the Maricopa…

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Tesla Model X driver dies in Mountain View crash

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A Tesla vehicle is at the center of another tragic crash, and the company is coming under renewed scrutiny over safety concerns as a result. The driver of a Model X has died after his electric SUV collided with a median barrier on Highway 101 in Moun…
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