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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Elon Musk just deleted Tesla’s and SpaceX’s Facebook pages in response to #DeleteFacebook

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“Looks lame anyway,” Musk tweeted.

Oh, Elon.

Earlier this week, WhatsApp co-founder and former Facebook employee Brian Acton went to Twitter to encourage people to #DeleteFacebook in light of the company’s recent privacy scandal with Cambridge Analytica.

Turns out Elon Musk, the eccentric CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, thought it was a great idea.

After tweeting back to Acton asking, “What’s Facebook?” someone suggested Musk delete SpaceX’s corporate Facebook page.

“I didn’t realize there was one. Will do,” he replied.

Then someone suggested he also delete Tesla’s corporate Facebook page.

“Definitely. Looks lame anyway,” Musk replied.

And that was that. Both pages appear to have been deleted. SpaceX’s page had more than 2.7 million followers.

It’s possible Musk is just playing around and the pages will be restored — and I’m sure Facebook and the social media employees at SpaceX and Tesla hope that’s the case. SpaceX utilized its Facebook page to show rocket launches on Facebook Live.

But that’s not really Musk’s style. When Sonos announced on Friday that it would suspend advertising on Facebook for a week, Musk replied, “Wow, a whole week. Risky …”

There might be something deeper to this Musk vs. Facebook situation. If you’ll recall, Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a little beef last year when Zuckerberg suggested that people who created doomsday scenarios about artificial intelligence were irresponsible. Musk has said often that he thinks AI could ultimately lead to the end of civilization as we know it.

“I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited,” Musk said in response to Zuckerberg’s comments. Well okay then!

To add to the tension between the two CEOs, when a SpaceX rocket accidentally exploded during a 2016 launch, it was carrying a Facebook satellite. “I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

Musk deleting his company Facebook pages is certainly funny. But if they stay deleted, and others see how easy it is for a major corporation to cut Facebook out of its life, maybe others will follow along. And that would be bad news for Zuckerberg.

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4 Questions About Tesla’s New ‘Gigafactory’

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In January 2017, Tesla revealed it wanted to outfit its Gigafactory 1 in Nevada with a 70 MW rooftop solar panel array — by far the biggest of its kind in the world. For more than a year after the announcement, the company stayed quiet about it. Now we finally have evidence that the company has started construction.

Satellite images posted by image archive blog Building Tesla show that a small section of the Gigafactory’s enormous roof is already covered by solar panels.

The array’s long-awaited construction is exciting, but we still have some questions. Here are some of the most pressing.

Why did it take Tesla so long to get started?

We suspect it’s mostly because the company has other projects competing for time and resources. Throughout 2017, Tesla filed 112 building permits, property-focused site BuildZoom reported in early February.

Aerial image of Gigafactory 1 in Nevada showing the small section of solar panels. Image Credit: Building Tesla
Aerial image of Gigafactory 1 in Nevada showing the small section of solar panels. Image Credit: Building Tesla

50 of those permits were for add-ons to previous structures, such as a cooling system and microgrid lab. New constructions included: a metrology lab, a brazen oven to automate metal joining, hot oil skid systems to store and transfer heat fluids, and air separation yards to separate atmospheric air into elemental components.

Gigafactory 1 is also where the Model 3 is produced. Production issues that have plagued the vehicle could have also slowed the array’s construction.

So now that construction is underway…

When will the solar panel array be finished?

We have no way of knowing. But if CEO Elon Musk and the rest of the higher-ups at Tesla have proven anything in the past, it’s that they can complete monumental tasks in a relatively short time. Remember that huge 100 MW battery in Australia? That took just 100 days to complete from start to finish. Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, has been producing solar panels for several months now. Though we don’t know if some of those panels are going to Gigafactory 1, we can speculate that if they are, that production flow will likely speed up the process.

Of course, we can’t talk about Tesla and renewable energy without also wondering…

Will the company use its own powerpacks to store energy?

It would make sense. Tesla already uses its battery packs for its solar panels and solar roof products, so why wouldn’t the company use its hardware for its most important factory?

According to ElectrekTesla claims to have improved the efficiency and production of their battery packs. Now, Gigafactory 1 can supposedly produce 105 GWh battery cells and 150 GWh battery packs.

If this is true, and if Gigafactory 1 is to play a notable part in Tesla’s goal to “transition the world to sustainable energy,” it’ll probably rely on products that it knows will work best: its own.

How much has Tesla invested into Gigafactory 1?

Musk has dumped a significant amount into the all-electric factory. As of February 2018, the factory’s construction costs have topped nearly $ 1.3 billion, according to BuildZoom. That total will undoubtedly climb following the solar panel array’s completion, and once again if Musk builds an underground tunnel to further boost production.

No company has ever embodied the expression “you have to spend money to make money” more than Tesla. The company ended 2017 with a quarterly loss of $ 675 million, yet it continues to spend, undaunted. Musk seems confident that pouring millions into making his ideas a reality will at some point generate revenue.

Tesla is not ready to slow down anytime soon, so expect to hear more about the company’s projects and production woes this year. Hopefully, in that time the company will course correct and finally put its Model 3 troubles behind.

The post 4 Questions About Tesla’s New ‘Gigafactory’ appeared first on Futurism.

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Two New Renewable Energy Projects Will Join Tesla’s Mega Battery in Australia

Water and Sun

Telsa is about to get some help in transitioning South Australia to a future powered by clean energy. The company’s mega battery will soon be joined by a pumped hydro storage project out of a former quarry in Highbury and a new solar installation complete with its own battery system, which will be connected to an existing wind farm near Snowtown.

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Energy company Tilt Renewables will operate both projects, and they’ll go a long way toward expanding South Australia’s green energy footprint.

Combined, the projects increase the region’s renewable capacity by 365 MW. Of that, 300 MW will come from the pumped hydro project, 44 MW from the solar farm, and 21 MW from the battery at the solar farm, which gives it a capacity approximately one-fifth that of Tesla’s mega battery.

“More renewable energy means cheaper power for South Australians,” said South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis in a news release. “This planned new solar and battery farm in the mid-north and pumped hydro power plant in Highbury will add a huge amount of additional competition to our system.”

Renewable Impact

Tesla’s battery has already proven its worth to South Australia a few times over. When a coal plant failure threatened the grid in December, the battery kicked in before the failed plant even finished going offline, taking mere milliseconds to ensure the region wouldn’t be without electricity.

The addition of a pumped hydro storage system will be particularly beneficial to the blackout-plagued region as it can ease the burden on less predictable renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

South Australia is taking bold action when it comes to the innovative storage of renewable energy. If we want to keep expanding renewable energy efforts, we’ll need effective storage systems.

Hopefully, the rest of Australia and other nations around the world learn from the region, taking note of the effectiveness of the burgeoning infrastructure and using South Australia’s success as inspiration for their own projects.

The post Two New Renewable Energy Projects Will Join Tesla’s Mega Battery in Australia appeared first on Futurism.

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