back to article Man killed in gruesome Tesla autopilot crash was saved by his car's software weeks earlier

An investigation was launched today after the driver of a Tesla was killed in what is understood to be a malfunction of the car's autopilot. Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old Ohio man, was killed on May 7 while driving his 2015 Tesla Model S on Route 27 in Florida. The car was using the optional autopilot system, which controls the …

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I guess my concern is "did he become complacent?". Hell, I've seen drivers hit the cruise control and basically just hang on for the ride and on the highway, it's real easy to be distracted unless one is making an effort to pay attention to the road. These autonomous systems are not completely autonomous yet and I believe they still have a ways to go. If the sensors failed to sense the trailer, why didn't the driver?

From his previous encounter, he says he wasn't actually watching that side of the car. Chances are, if he were in full control, he would have.

Yes, I read the article and others... other drivers slowed and avoided the truck.

My sympathies to his family. He was too young to go.

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Anonymous Coward

> Yes, I read the article and others... other drivers slowed and avoided the truck

Thanks for pointing that out. Instead of "biting the hand.." as usual, this time El Reg left out some minor details that look bad for this technology.

- This "divided highway" isn't a freeway, it has intersections.

- The truck made a left turn from the oncoming left turn lane (think right turn, Brits).

- He should have seen it and anticipated that the trucker might turn in front of him.

- Time was 3:40pm on May 7 so glare likely wasn't an issue.

- "White truck, white sky" is the lamest bullshit excuse...

P.S. some of the other articles say a lot of other autopilot users reported that complacency is a huge problem, and the autopilot occasionally does really dangerous things like switching off during a lane change. Personally I would feel safer with a texting drunk driver at the wheel than ANY 'autopilot' or self-driving car. AI is bunk.

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"- Time was 3:40pm on May 7 so glare likely wasn't an issue.

- "White truck, white sky" is the lamest bullshit excuse..."

Unless the car was facing west, meaning the car was oriented toward the sun. I don't know of too many sensors yet that can properly handle sun-blindness.

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Sorry, sensors shouldn't have to handle sun-blindness, drivers should. It's a simple case of the mistaken belief "I don't have to do my job because 'tech' will do it for me".

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Mre likely "Clark Griswold driving"

"White truck, white sky"

My old car (now my wife's car) is shiny bright blue metallic. It has been pranged twice with the other person not seeing it because it becomes literally invisible at some angles in a bright (and especially low) sun.

In any case, based on a description of the trailer and the crash I suspect an "American Lampoon Christmas Vacation" incident, just one without a happy ending.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozksR8QLWzM

The autopilot did not see anything on the side because there was nothing to see - it was _UNDER_ the level of the tractor trailer and not looking up, but looking at the gap between the front and the back.

None of it excuses the driver from being complacent too by the way.

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Time was 3:40pm on May 7 so glare likely wasn't an issue

"The FHP said the tractor-trailer was traveling west on US 27A in the left turn lane toward 140th Court. Brown’s car was headed east in the outside lane of U.S. 27A."

Even if he was headed west at 3:40 PM in Florida the Sun would have been high enough in the sky to not be a glare issue.

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"sensors shouldn't have to handle sun-blindness, drivers should."

Drivers can't(*) - and if a trucker pulls out across traffic flow he's supposed to be giving way to, then there's a huge degree of culpability.

(*)Sunstrike is a large factor in crashes in the half hour before sunset and after sunrise. Silver/white/grey vehicles are disproportionately involved in them.

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Re: Time was 3:40pm on May 7 so glare likely wasn't an issue

Unless the truck's white side was highly-reflective, creating a mirror effect.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes, I read the article and others... other drivers slowed and avoided the truck.

This is actually one of the things that an (alert) driver has over an AI - you don't just watch traffic, you also watch for anomalies. I have a simple algorithm for driving at motorway speeds in that I have to be able to scan well ahead, and by that I don't mean two cars in front of me, it means several hundred yards, and all the lanes, not just the one I'm in. If I can't do that I don't feel I'm driving at a safe speed (and I do a fair bit of German Autobahn, I'm used to high speeds).

In this case, it would have helped the AI if it had been able to detect that there were unexplained avoidance manoeuvres ("unexplained" as the AI had not picked up on the truck), which should have been cause to alert the driver. This situation may improve in the future when auto-drive cars are able to signal each other (which also widens sensor range), but for now, a human driver would have picked up on the flow anomaly caused by people swerving around an object, even if the object itself wasn't that visible. I suspect that will be a hard one to embed in an AI, but if they could it would certainly improve its ability to spot problems - even if it's just to wake up the driver.

Personally I'm not comfortable with using something labelled "beta" at motorway speeds, but each to their own - if others didn't use it we would not get live data. However, I've seen a few sudden glitches that make me avoid the idea. Assist, fine, control, no, not yet, thanks.

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"- He should have seen it and anticipated that the trucker might turn in front of him."

I partially agree, he should have seen it, and realised the guy might be an idiot and pull out, accident still sounds to be the fault of the trucker to me....

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er: White truck, white sky

Why is it only looking at the picture from a camera? Shouldn't there be some kind of object sensing sonar/radar that bounces off trucks of any colour?

Basing automatic driving on a single mechanism seems incredibly stupid, however clever the image processor is...

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Yes, you're right AC.

Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate.

Watch the road as far ahead as you can see - any sign of brake lights is a warning signal.

When driving on motorways I plan ages ahead if I can: "I'll overtake that truck before the fast guy in the BMW catches up with me, then I'll move into that space there, just in time to move out again before the slow guy who's gradually catching up blocks me in behind the next truck..." and so on and on. Result smooth steady progress, no panics unless really necessary, nobody else held up too much.

This is what human drivers can do, which AI is really going to struggle with imho.

Truly autonomous vehicles are much further in the future than people think.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: er: White truck, white sky

My thoughts entirely - I can't believe this system could be set up in such a way. Surely that makes it useless against black trucks at night, green trucks in heavily forested areas, grey trucks in the rain? for something as safety specific as this, at a minimum, it should use radar and IR. Do we really have the full story here?

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Re: er: White truck, white sky

@sabroni On the radio this morning, Noel Sharkey said the Tesla has both radar and ultrasound, but that they point down and would have missed the trailer because it was so high. He was pretty critical of the Tesla having such holes in its sensor coverage and said another, German manufacturer has complete coverage.

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Re: er: White truck, white sky

"Why is it only looking at the picture from a camera? Shouldn't there be some kind of object sensing sonar/radar that bounces off trucks of any colour?"

It has a forward-facing camera (top of the windscreen, near the mirror), forward-facing radar at the nose, and 12 short-range (5 metres) ultrasonic sensors all around the car. *

Note that apparently the camera is used for lane-keeping and detecting speed limits - I am not sure if it is actually used to detect traffic and obstacles.

At a guess, I would say the radar beam is too narrow in its y-axis (perhaps it isn't even 2-D) - it perhaps saw a gap underneath the trailer and thought "all clear", at the same time as the camera software was fooled by the lighting conditions, or wasn't even checking for things like the trailer.

This may not necessarily have been a crazy way to design the car's software - how many of us would think that it should be able to detect whether it can do a limbo manoeuvre or not?

* This was taken from an owner's post on a forum - not claiming it's reliable.

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@AndrewDU

Thats because you have had years of expereince on the road behind the wheel, by the sounds of it.

Experience and the ability to predict other drivers actions is a skill that cannot be taught, it is learned, ususally over 10-20 years of driving.

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Sensor failure

"Unless the car was facing west, meaning the car was oriented toward the sun. I don't know of too many sensors yet that can properly handle sun-blindness."

I'm pretty sure radar and laser systems arn't bothered by sun glare. The question is why do Tesla apparently rely soley on cameras and visual recognition systems when they should be using a belt and braces approach for something this safety critical?

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Facepalm

@tnovelli

"Personally I would feel safer with a texting drunk driver at the wheel than ANY 'autopilot' or self-driving car."

sigh.....

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"Personally I'm not comfortable with using something labelled "beta" at motorway speeds"

This is exactly my thought. It seems insanely reckless to do so.

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Pint

"...don't know of....sensors yet that can properly handle sun-blindness."

Radar. ...Like, obviously.

With some effort, one can design a radar receiver that can detect in-band RF noise from the Sun. But it's much easier to build a radar that works perfectly normally even when it's boresighted on the Sun in the background.

The essential 'System Design 101' requirement is to remember that the vehicle is about 4 or 5 feet tall. The system design needs to also consider the vertical height of the proposed route. Not shoot radar under the truck and thus crash into it.

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Anonymous Coward

"Truly autonomous vehicles are much further in the future than people think."

This. We seem to have leapt into self driving vehicles without me ever noticing that bit where software became provably reliable, developers think like safety engineers, and humanity developed something akin to 'AI'.

Do you trust industrial software development? The Toyota unintended acceleration case showed the quality of one major vehicle manufacturer: over 2000 global variables, nearly a 1000 buffer overrun vulnerabilities and much more. And that was industrial safety critical vehicle software. The behavior of Volkswagen and its emission results faking software also makes me question the VW development processes.

As well as being able to drive as safe as a human, car driving software needs to also be bug free. Given that the software being shipped by some car manufacturers has been able to be pwned by playing MP3s, I think we have some way to go before their software can be relied on enough that we can start thinking about how well we trust the AI.

I will trust self driving AI when it and the vehicle's software is open sourced and the AI can autonomously pass a human driving test ;)

"OK KITT, I want to you to drive until you find a safe spot and perform a turn-in-the road."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time was 3:40pm on May 7 so glare likely wasn't an issue

These cars will be using mostly radar and ultra-sonics not cameras

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Boffin

Machine Learning

" Personally I would feel safer with a texting drunk driver at the wheel than ANY 'autopilot' or self-driving car. AI is bunk."

Can confirm. AI was driving my car the other day when it leaned over to me, and burped with a beery breath "Whatch thish.." It then attempt to take a corner at 80mph and spun into a ditch. Then it messaged Facebook "oopz i crased, lol", attached to a dashboard video upload, submitted a crash report to the manufacturer, notified the emergency services and then fell into a drunken slumber.

This is learnt behaviour and so much worse that any texting drunk driver.

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Indeed, like many of these systems, they should be viewed as an AID, and not a replacement, for your own sense.

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"This is what human drivers can do"

However it's not what most human drivers _DO_, which is why motorways end up with mysterious tailbacks with no crash in sight.

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Re: @AndrewDU

"Experience and the ability to predict other drivers actions is a skill that cannot be taught, it is learned, ususally over 10-20 years of driving."

It can be taught, but it requires the recipients have a will to learn. Most monkeys are far too impatient for that shit.

The fact that it _can_ be taught means that AIs can learn it, which means that their driving ability and anticipation factors will improve. They're already better than most drivers most of the time(*)

(*) Most drivers only think 3-4 seconds ahead at most, which explains the infamous 3 second cycle (3 seconds on the loud pedal, 3 seconds off it - and bus drivers are particularly bad for this habit(**)). Training them to look 12 seconds ahead and think 30 seconds ahead is what gets much smoother traffic flows and less annoyed passengers.

(**) now you're aware of this phemonenon, you'll notice it more often. It occurs most often on open road where the driver "hunts" on either side of the speed limit rather than using more gentle throttle movements to keep more-or-less on speed. Motorcyclists are more likely to exhibit this kind of behaviour when driving cars, for some reason.

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Thought the Tesla had radar?

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Re: sun-blindness

> I don't know of too many sensors yet that can properly handle sun-blindness.

If they can't then they shouldn't be being used in this application. Sunshine (even in Blighty) isn't an unusual phenomena. This is something that should have been tested for.

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Re: @AndrewDU

"The fact that it _can_ be taught means that AIs can learn it, which means that their driving ability and anticipation factors will improve. They're already better than most drivers most of the time(*)"

Do we have reason to believe road smarts is something that CAN be taught rather than something intuitive we just pick up without realizing it, meaning we don't know HOW we know it and therefore can't pass it onto a car system?

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Re: @AndrewDU

"Motorcyclists are more likely to exhibit this kind of behaviour when driving cars, for some reason."

Probably because they're accustomed to feeling/hearing the engine RPM, which a motorcyce rider will rely on to hold a perfectly steady speed without ever looking at the instruments. In some cars these days it's pretty hard to tell if the engine is even running, never mind what RPM it's at.

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Re: @AndrewDU

Yeah - the IAM train people in how to improve their driving significantly, mainly by anticipating what's going on a long way ahead, and focusing on small, smooth inputs and corrections. It's recognised by insurance companies to reduce accident rates - so if you pass the IAM test, you will get cheaper insurance because you're proven to be a safer driver.

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Re: er: White truck, white sky

There is. That model S has one front-facing radar, one front-facing near/far IR optical camera, and 360 degree ultrasonic sensors. Not nearly enough for autonomous driving, although to Tesla's credit, they do not advertise autonomous driving, or even semi-autonomous driving, but rather autonomous steering. Huge difference! After all, the car did indeed steer straight down the highway. The ability to avoid the unfortunate accident was beyond its design parameters.

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Anonymous Coward

I don't know of too many sensors yet that can properly handle sun-blindness.

Does anyone know if it's just a standard video camera?

Maybe an HDR camera would help in this situation - it would be more like the human eye.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mre likely "Clark Griswold driving"

Maybe the radar needs to point slightly higher, too.

Of course, that may cause EM emissions problems, but may provide some protection against birdstrikes or hitting giraffes.

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Anonymous Coward

I partially agree, he should have seen it, and realised the guy might be an idiot and pull out, accident still sounds to be the fault of the trucker to me....

Given how fast a full-sized truck accelerates, it pulled out way beforehand.

The trucker, not the autopilot was at fault for not yielding the right-of-way.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: er: White truck, white sky

Why is it only looking at the picture from a camera? Shouldn't there be some kind of object sensing sonar/radar that bounces off trucks of any colour?

There is, but it was looking for cars on the road, not the gap between a trailer and the road (radar didn't go high enough).

Sonar would have to be very loud (loud enough to kill birds?), or wouldn't be very useful.

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Anonymous Coward

Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate.

Watch the road as far ahead as you can see - any sign of brake lights is a warning signal.

So, the exact opposite of drivers in the U.S.A., then?

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Visible light cameras only?

There is a lot more spectrum than the portion humans see, the car should be looking in those as well as using some form of radar or sonar (or better yet both) so "white car, white sky" should NEVER be a problem.

If it is, then Tesla's autopilot isn't fit for purpose and shouldn't be used because it is obvious that people will become complacent and not pay attention when it is in use regardless of Tesla's instructions on the matter.

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Anonymous Coward

So... the truck driver heard audio from a Harry Potter movie coming from the Tesla post-crash, and police found a portable DVD player in the vehicle... looks like the driver may have not been paying attention.

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The facts - just the facts

Looking at the other stories covering this, the "white side" of the truck is irrelevant. It looks as if the truck driver might be found to be partially at fault (in my state he definitely would be). He could see oncoming traffic that clearly was moving fast enough to be a hazard and decided to make the turn or pull across the road anyway. The turn is evidently not a signaled intersection so the rules of the road require the truck driver to make a "safe" turn, which means he can't rely on the kindness and alertness of strangers to handle safety for him. Getting hit by oncoming traffic, even traffic on autopilot shows that he failed to judge the time it would take to cross the road, or failed to wait until the turn was truly "clear." You see behaviour like that often, where one driver gets impatient or simply is impatient and grabs the intersection regardless of safety.

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Updated: He was watching Harry Potter

The only comment is that if that was on the car main entertainment screen, that means Tesla is in seriously hot water. Federal safety regulations and car insurers prohibit explicitly the ability of movie playback in car entertainment systems on the front screen while moving (this is why the aftermarket ones have the hand/parking brake sensor).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The facts - just the facts

> You see behaviour like that often

It's totally routine in New England. In the more congested areas, you can't get anywhere without breaking a few laws. Autopilot should be disabled if GPS says you're in this region. Maybe it is and that's why we haven't heard about any autopilot fails around here.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Updated: He was watching Harry Potter

Was it Harry Potter and the Deadly Tesla of Elon Muskevort?

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Anonymous Coward

Did he become complacent?

Well, apparently he made a habit of posting videos taken when he should have been driving, one showing him with both hands on his thighs letting the car drive itself.

At the time of this crash he is said to have been watching a movie on a portable DVD player.

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Anonymous Coward

Unless the car was facing west

At 3:40pm on May 7, even facing west - glare shouldn't have been a problem.

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Re: @AndrewDU

Motorcyclists are more likely to exhibit this kind of behaviour when driving cars, for some reason.

There's a number of factors, including the listening to the engine as mentioned above. Also the size and relatively pitiful responsiveness, and relatively poor handling of cars can contribute to this. As woulsd driving a vehicle one is not used to, especially as the controls are in quite different places (for the uninitiated most bikes have hand controls for the throttle, clutch and front brakes with foot controls for the gears and rear brake).

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Holmes

Given how fast a full-sized truck accelerates, it pulled out way beforehand.

The trucker, not the autopilot was at fault for not yielding the right-of-way.

If something is blocking the road ahead, slow down or crash.

If you can't see if something is blocking the road ahead, slow down or die.

If you have any doubts about your ability to see clearly ahead, you're driving too fast.

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Meh

drunk texting drivers vs AI.... and superiority bias

It would be interesting to test that hypothesis by knowing the subset of the statistic deaths per million miles for those who habitually text whilst driving under the influence of alcohol (or other drugs). I fear all we may find is additional evidence that confirms the existence of superiority bias, and that it may be even higher amongst those who believe it is acceptable to impair their abilities or divert their attention unnecesarily whilst driving.

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Yes but ...

"Tesla said this is the first autopilot-related fatality in 130 million miles driven by its autos."

But how many of those miles were on autopilot?

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Re: Yes but ...

And how many were on a test track?

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