The second death in weeks, this time in a Tesla autopiloted car, has added fresh fuel to criticism of automated driving developers.
Taking a look at the facts, the pressure may be unwarranted.
The Tesla vehicle was not “fully autonomous,” as some have claimed. This is not even a legal designation, and a human driver must be available at all times to take over from the assistive techinology. The car is capable of autonomously braking, accelerating, and steering, but is not designed to be left alone. The driver apparently ignored several warning to return attention the steering wheel before the collision. According to a Tesla statement:
“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. 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.”
They also stated that the incident was worsened by the crash attenuator, a highway barrier with which the car collided, had already been badly damaged, and provided a blunt surface for the impact.
The victim was a 38 year old Apple software engineer.
Tesla’s detailed statement goes on to vigorously defend the Autopilot technology in its vehicles, while also expressing its condolences for the tragedy.
In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
The monthly performance of Tesla’s share price has been abysmal, capping off a recall affecting 123,000 Tesla Model S vehicles globally over a power steering issue. Bottleneck problems in Tesla’s ability to manufacture the new Model 3 as quickly as hoped, particularly centering around their battery plants have further hammered values.
On a positive note for Tesla founder, Elon Musk, his rocket firm, SpaceX, recently had positive news after they were able to recover the fairing, a heat protective cap for a rocket, from the ocean, capping off a successful launch.
Once a rocket exits the atmosphere and the friction-generated heat fades, the fairing is supposed to break in half and reenter the atmosphere before falling to earth. SpaceX had contracted a boat, and equipped it with a giant claw to retrieve it from the ocean. They planned to use GPS assisted parafoils, a type of parachute, to assist reentry at low speeds. The parafoils were paired with tiny thrusters, and could guide the fairing directly into the claw. After a scare occured when a parafoil became tangled, fears that a fast reentry and collision with the ocean would destroy the fairing erupted. In the end, a pairing half was successfully recovered, though.
This might be a good time for investors to scoop up Tesla shares, if one believes that the company will continue to fare well with the mass of competitor EVs coming onto the market.
Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound. It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, tries to catch it.
Staff writer: Ari B
Photo credit: Matt Henry