The 8-month long investigation has come to an end and the US auto safety regulator has cleared Tesla Model S of all defects which might have caused the death of Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old from Ohio, who was driving a Tesla Model S with the Autopilot enabled.
For those of you who do not know about this event or Tesla in general,
Tesla Motors is an American automaker co-founded by Elon Musk. In October 2014, Tesla began rolling out cars with already embedded ultrasonic sensors around the bumpers and sides. And for an additional $4,250, the customers could use these sensors combined with a camera, a front radar and digitally controlled brakes, to detect and avoid collisions. A year later, Tesla released an update named Tesla Version 7.0 nicknamed Tesla Autopilot. This update in addition to avoiding accidents, enabled the drivers to put their cars on autopilot using which the car could steer itself, change lanes, manage its speed and park into empty lanes. Tesla owners were quick to show off these amazing features of their cars as the internet started flooding with videos of drivers putting their Teslas on autopilot and then casually drinking coffee or reading the newspaper etc. It was all fun and games until Joshua Brown died in a fatal crash on May 7, 2016. Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash. The crash occurred when a truck came in front of the Tesla after crossing over from the other lane. This event suddenly put Tesla under heat and criticism from public as well as different governing organizations. A long probe was launched as to whether Teslas are as safe as they are advertised and should they be recalled. The probe lasted for eight months after which it has been finally decided that it was not the Tesla autopilot which caused the crash as it was working well within its abilities but the neglect of the driver itself. According to the some witnesses the driver wasn’t paying any attention to the road at all and was watching the movie at the time of the crash. Had he been looking at the road, he could have easily prevented the crash as according to the investigation, he had set the car’s cruise control at 74 miles per hour and had at least 7 seconds before crashing into the truck to apply brakes. Apart from that, the investigation also put out some data as to how safe the autopilot is. It shows that after the installation of autopilot, the crash rate has dropped by almost 40%. The investigation also concluded that the reason Tesla couldn’t prevent the crash was due to the fact that Tesla Autopilot is not capable of handling situations involving crossing traffic.
So, it seems that the Autopilot technology is not as mature and it needs to evolve more before we get completely safe and fully autonomous vehicles and Tesla is aware of that. In November, last year, Tesla released Tesla Version 8.0 which now requires the driver to touch the steering wheel more frequently and if the driver doesn’t, after 3 warnings, the car shuts down. Also in December last year, Tesla released the 2nd version of its hardware suite which now includes eight surround cameras, twelve ultrasonic sensors, a better front facing radar and a Nvidia Drive PX 2 GPU for calculations. According to Tesla, this hardware suite contains all the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at SAE Level 5. Now the only thing remaining is to ensure that the software completely takes advantage of this hardware. This is going to take around 2 more years and according to a tweet from Elon Musk himself, Tesla is targeting a 90% reduction in car crashes after all the integration is done. So, it seems that we are in fact moving towards a totally safe and fully autonomous future in driving and hopefully we won’t be seeing any more deaths like that of Joshua Brown. The future is already here, so let’s wait and see how everything goes.