back to article The curious case of a Tesla smash, Autopilot blamed, and the driver's next-day U-turn

On Saturday evening, a Tesla Model S skidded off the road in central Minnesota, in America's Midwest, and ended up on its roof in a swamp. Inside was driver David Clark, 58, and four adult passengers. They all managed to climb out of the wreck with nothing more than cuts and bruises. After the cops asked Clark what had …

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Hmm

Paid to change his mind or dumb enough to blame his mistake on the autopilot while not understanding that Tesla watched everything he did in their car?

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Re: Hmm

Almost for sure stupid, and he probably got a nice call from a lawyer just to keep him honest.

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Re: Hmm

Agreed. If Tesla were stupid enough to bribe someone who is the subject of a minor police enquiry, when it'd be oh so easy for the cops to obtain the data through a warrant, they would be risking that enquiry becoming a major affair. I can't believe that the company would do that.

Nonetheless I suspect that the police department is now going to request the data. If it's missing (for example, there was no cellular coverage in the area), then things could become more interesting... No coverage gives Tesla plausible deniability, and an enterprising police department might want to explore the depths of that.

Anyone any good at data forensics on Teslas? I mean, apart from Tesla?

On the whole though it sounds like Autopilot was off. If they've leaned on the guy to change his tune, they did so pretty quickly and that probably means they do have the relevant data in their servers. They may well have already furnished the police department with a copy of their data; we just haven't heard that part of the story yet.

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Re: Hmm

Blaming the autopilot would be pointless, since it isn't an "autopilot" and isn't supposed to be used that way. He'd be ticketed as at fault regardless. Tesla however has billions of reasons to cover it up if autopilot messed up.

Seems a mite suspicious to me how he changed his tune later. Since any analysis of the data from the car would be conducted by Tesla, that's not exactly an impartial witness. We'll never know the truth, since there's no way to verify either the driver's or Tesla's account.

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Re: Hmm

If it's missing (for example, there was no cellular coverage in the area), then things could become more interesting... No coverage gives Tesla plausible deniability,

I would guess that if there is no cellular coverage the car would store the relevant data.

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Vic
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Re: Hmm

Seems a mite suspicious to me how he changed his tune later

Not to me.

I went to an AAIB presentation last year. One of the take-away points from the inspector talking to us is that, after a crash, pilots do everything in their power to provide an accurate and informative account of the accident to the Bureau. And inevitably, just about every detail they give is wrong. This is the nature of a dangerous event; the brain really doesn't take things in objectively.

The Inspector gave us a particularly useful example of a glider pilot who had pranged his aircraft on approach. He recounted the story the pilot gave, and how it differed from what a subsequent investigation proved beyond shadow of doubt - the pilot was simply mistaken in just about everything. And the reason this was important was that the pilot in question was - himself.

Vic.

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Re: Hmm

And inevitably, just about every detail they give is wrong

Not really surprising that this Tesla driver may have been confused - I wouldn't expect to have accurate recollection about the preceding events if my car had just gone off-road at speed and overturned in a marsh.

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Re: Hmm

Seems more like he gave a statement to police while still very shaken up by the accident, which then got misquoted or misunderstood by the media, who ran with the whole "autopilot caused a crash" without proper facts or an actual statement to that effect. Then when he recovered from adrenaline overdose and actually got his brain working again, he notices all the bruhahah in the media and makes a corrective statement with what actually happened. This has "media frenzy and damn the truth" written all over it.

Those of use who have actually been in mortal danger will know high doses of adrenaline do funny things to your mental faculties. You're hyper focused on staying alive and all physical tasks that this involves. To the tune you focus out all other stuff that is unimportant, like talking, thinking much beyond the task directly at hand or even creating memories of what transpires. Some moments are etched into your brain forever, others are just a vague blurr or completely missing. And it takes a while to get all of that out of your system again.

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Re: Hmm

Paid to change his mind or dumb enough to blame his mistake on the autopilot while not understanding that Tesla watched everything he did in their car?

Honestly, it's very easy to say dumb things when you're shook up after an accident. It's not stupidity; it's just how the brain reacts to that kind of stress, and it's not uncommon, nor suspicious, for people to change their stories in the cold light of day.

That isn't a comment on what might actually have happened in this case; all I'm saying is that it's unfair to call him stupid just for changing his mind.

That said, there clearly is something more to this story than just someone changing his mind. He's obviously been given a nudge by Tesla's lawyers and/or PR department, and his response was what they asked for but was brutally unsubtle. I can imagine the PR people in question cringing when they read that letter.

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Devil

Re: Hmm

"Is that ok Mr Musk? Can you let my wife and children go now?"

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Re: Hmm

Blaming the autopilot would be pointless, since it isn't an "autopilot" and isn't supposed to be used that way.

Is it not? On the page entitled 'Autopilot' on the tesla website at https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/autopilot

it states:

Full Self-Driving Capability

... The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat. ....

All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate urban streets (even without lane markings), manage complex intersections with traffic lights, stop signs and roundabouts, and handle densely packed freeways with cars moving at high speed. When you arrive at your destination, simply step out at the entrance and your car will enter park seek mode, automatically search for a spot and park itself. A tap on your phone summons it back to you

So I don't see why it is fair to blame people for assuming it is exactly what it is advertised as

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In bold on the same page

"Please note that Self-Driving functionality is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary widely by jurisdiction.'

AFAIK the self-driving functionality will be turned (by Tesla not the user) when such approval is given which hasn't happened anywhere yet.

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Re: Hmm

"If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar. "

Jesus thats a step too far isnt it? whats the fking point of that? Is it for people too lazy to tell the car where they want to go? Its automation for the sake of it that will be a hinderance more often than a help , Like that F******** paperclippy.

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Re: Hmm

> So I don't see why it is fair to blame people for assuming it is exactly what it is advertised as

Read the fine print on that same page - 'Full Self Driving Capability' is not yet available, you have the option to add this capability if you were to order a vehicle today but there is no indication as to when this ability would be available or enabled in your country.

However, semi-autonomous (level 2) driving as what this driver had is available, and is what Autopilot refers to:

1) When you enable autopilot as a feature it clearly states you need to keep your hands on the wheel at all times and be able to take full control at all times

2) Every time you enable Autopilot whilst driving it tells you to keep your hands on the wheel at all times and be able to take control at any time

3) Every 2-5 minutes (depending on speed, type of road, etc), the car will give you warnings (which escalates in sound and visual intensity) if it does not feel torque on the steering wheel, if this is ignored, the car will disable autpilot and slow down to 0mph.

You are in other words warned every time you use it that you should be able to take full control of the vehicle.

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Re: Hmm

Cont......

Please note that Self-Driving functionality is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary widely by jurisdiction. It is not possible to know exactly when each element of the functionality described above will be available, as this is highly dependent on local regulatory approval. Please note also that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year.

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Re: Hmm

Means you can get shitfaced and just fall into the back seat and wait for the car to take your passed out self home./joke

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Re: Hmm

Then what's the point? If self-crashing mode requires the driver to be able to take control at any point, then why pay the big bucks for it?

I don't even like cruise control for this very reason: Some fool pulls out in into the left lane (typically without signalling a lane change -- I digress) doing five under the limit when I'm doing five over, and the brake disengages the bloody thing.

I don't see the point.

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Re: Hmm

if it does not feel torque on the steering wheel, if this is ignored, the car will disable autpilot and slow down to 0mph.

That's scary.

I'd want it to keep the autopilot engaged in the process of slowing the car down to 0mph. Just turning the autopilot off at the same time as it kills power to the motors isn't my idea of good design.

Or maybe it's just badly-written blurb on the website...

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Re: Hmm

"Full Self-Driving Capability

... The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat. "

But it's not is it?

"Read the fine print on that same page - 'Full Self Driving Capability' is not yet available, you have the option to add this capability if you were to order a vehicle today but there is no indication as to when this ability would be available or enabled in your country."

Am I the only person who thinks that this last bit is so important that the first part about the self-driving capabilities should not be there at all, until such time as self-driving is a thing?

If Tesla are going to roll out a software update in future that will fully enable the feature, then that is the time to tell the owners about it, not while it is still a dream for the future.

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Re: Hmm

Ah! The small print. It will be the curse of ''intelligent" vehicles.

For liability reasons, the legal team will insist on lots of small print, including explicit language saying you take liability for everything (If you don't believe me, just wait and see!).

So, either you read, and understand, every line of the Operator's Manual or you're at risk of a "gotcha" if an incident happens. But few folks read, let alone understand, every line of an Operator's Manual and no one will want to take a two-day 'understand your car' course to learn all the features. So folks will continue to be confused as to the functionalities. It won't take too many "you should have know it doesn't work that way" incidents to sour them on all that fancy functionality.

It's another reason why you can't creep up on Level 5 and why Google gave up simply incrementing functionality. At some point either the vehicle does it all (Level 5), or it's worth no more than a few understandable driver assist features.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmm

> Seems a mite suspicious to me how he changed his tune later.

Not if you can picture The Musk on your doorstep with a length of rubber hose. >:)

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Re: Hmm

>> if it does not feel torque on the steering wheel, if this is ignored, the car will disable autpilot and slow down to 0mph.

> I'd want it to keep the autopilot engaged in the process of slowing the car down to 0mph. Just turning the autopilot off at the same time as it kills power to the motors isn't my idea of good design.

Or maybe it's just badly-written blurb on the website...

Yes it is a badly written blurb - if autopilot's warnings are ignored it will 'safely' (and not immediately) bring itself to a standstill with your emergencies on in the lane you are in. Presumably the assumption being that the driver is incapacitated in some manner.

I assume once 'full autonomy' exists the hard shoulder would be a the practical option.

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Trollface

Big brother?

So much telemetry...must be running Windows 10 Slurp Edition with Bing(tm) in the Tesla!

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Autopilot and Junctions

The Autopilot takes you to the set speed quite quickly if there is no car or other obstruction about 3 car lengths in front. Putting it on as you approach a junction, not the best use of this tech which is what I think this guy says he did in his first comments to press.

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Re: Autopilot and Junctions

Other cruise controls are aggressive too. A Ford engineer acquaintance says that this is because product management want the car to feel sporty and powerful.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Autopilot and Junctions

> A Ford engineer acquaintance says that this is because product management want the car to feel sporty and powerful.

With up to 700+ BHP on some Teslas, I bet they don't have to make too much of an effort on the let's make it feel sporty and powerful front.

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I strongly suspect Tesla involvment here...

"I had engaged the autopilot system but then I had disengaged it by stepping on accelerator" qouth the chap involved, after stating things like "I know I was pretty shook up..." and "To the best of my recollection...".

Knowing that he disengaged the autpilot by depressing the accelerator seems a very specific thing to know, when you're shook up and struggling to recall things; not something you would necessarily know if you were sufficiently distracted to not see a sharp left hand bend looming in front of you.

Rather, I think the chap involved genuinely thought he had autopilot on, and was not lying to the best of his knowledge when he spoke to the cops claiming thusly. However, somewhere in the panic of "Oh my goat! There's a corner!" (or just before) he accelerated sufficiently to disengage the autopilot, without being aware of this.

Tesla then spotted it in the logs, had a small "Woohoo, were off the hook!" moment, and a few lawyerly phone calls ensued.

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Re: "when you're shook up and struggling to recall things"

Not what he wrote in his follow-up mail. He specifically indicates that he had a conversation with his friends, they reconstructed the ride and it was then that he came to the conclusion that the autopilot had disengaged.

He was shook up when he stated that it was on, and the media ran with it because headlines.

On the other hand, that tells me that Tesla's autopilot disengages when you touch any pedal, which is not what other brand autopilots generally do - they disengage when you touch the brakes.

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Stop

Re: "when you're shook up and struggling to recall things"

'Engaging' Cruise Control on the automatics I have driven sets your speed to the 'current' speed of the vehicle. 'Resuming' Cruise control would result in a slight delay (about a second) before the system attempts to adjust the car to the previously set speed.

Whilst in Cruise mode pressing the accelerator will 'override' the set speed and propel you faster until you release the accelerator and the vehicle will begin to drop back to the previously set speed.

If you press the brake at any time in Cruise mode the Mode will be cancelled and the vehicle will decelerate unless the accelerator is depressed (speed now under driver's control) or unless the 'Resume' button is then pressed (to allow the vehicle to automatically Resume at previous set speed).

....quote 'On the other hand, that tells me that Tesla's autopilot disengages when you touch any pedal, which is not what other brand autopilots generally do - they disengage when you touch the brakes./unquote.

It doesn't tell you anything about Tesla's 'Autopilot'. It's just the driver looking for alternative answers when he cannot believe that somehow he was at fault , because he can't remember what he did.

One way or another the guy went too quick and lost control..

Good News... everyone walked away...

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Re: I strongly suspect Tesla involvment here...

The strange thing is that pressing the accelerator does NOT disengage autopilot, it merely enables the ability to overtake in a inside lane, you can disable autopilot with your feet by pressing the brake pedal though.

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Coat

Shock news. US drivers actually use safety belts?

Car turns over but no one seriously hurt is pretty impressive.

IOW roof didn't collapse and no one went through the windshield. Also no back seat passengers managed to shoot forward and hit a front seater.

The fact it crashed into what is described as a "marsh" probably helped a fair bit too.

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Re: Shock newse. US drivers actually use safety belts?

Well, my grandma flipped over her Volkswagen Käfer several decades back. Not hurt and the car survived as well...

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Re: Shock news. US drivers actually use safety belts?

Modern cars are designed with those really thick pillars to keep the roof in place. The occupants wear seatbelts and airbags fly out from all around, including in the back.

I've witnessed rollover accidents where people just stepped out shocked by mostly uninjured.

There was one I saw one night that was so frightening I was afraid to look inside the car, but I did and encountered a smiling driver!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Shock news. US drivers actually use safety belts?

I've witnessed rollover accidents where people just stepped out shocked

I saw one a few years back where the unhurt driver stepped out through the place where the windscreen had been, holding his removable stereo. Obviously somewhere under the shock the subconscious message of "leaving the car, take the radio" still kicked in.

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Re: Shock news. US drivers actually use safety belts?

Friend had someone drive into him at a rather fast speed on a country road in his car (police were actually behind him and estimated it as somewhere around 70-90 mph), totalled it (as in police, scrappy, fire service all expected a corpse from seeing the wreck), got out with a sore ankle, comment was if he had been in his ten yr older car he probably would be dead. Safety features might make a car heavier to some peoples complaints, but nice when you need them.

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Unhappy

"The occupants wear seatbelts and airbags fly out from all around, "

In the rest of the world yes, but in America it was estimated that approximately 30% of drivers didn't wear safety belts. 18 states only treat it as a secondary offense. Of the other 31 (New Hampshire is odd, it's primary for children in the front seat) only 8 had it as a primary offense originally.

Hence the very fast airbag deployment systems on US cars.

In at least one known case a 7YO child was in the front passenger seat when it was tripped while not wearing a safety belt. Deployment broke the child's neck.

Perhaps a few more decades of "evolution in action" will see the rest move it to a primary, as most of those who demand the right to drive without a safety belt manage to auto-Darwinate themselves.

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Re: Shock news. US drivers actually use safety belts?

Heh - I saw something very similar. A car got hit side on in Cambridge Circus and flipped. Hell of a smash, but we helped the driver out, who seemed unhurt. The hard thing was stopping him from going back to the car (which was leaking fuel) to retrieve a cassette from the stereo.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "The occupants wear seatbelts and airbags fly out from all around, "

Hence the very fast airbag deployment systems on US cars.

Airbags are designed to protect the upper body/head from hitting the dash area, for a non-belted occupant whose whole body is moving forward the airbag can act as a pivot, 'helping' them to somersault out through the screen. The result can be worse than a no-airbag scenario. If you have airbags, you must wear the belt as well.

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Re: "The occupants wear seatbelts and airbags fly out from all around, "

The result can be worse than a no-airbag scenario. If you have airbags, you must wear the belt as well

I believe there are two type of airbag systems, the SRS (Seatbelt Restraint System) one, and the other type that is more popular in the USA.

I can't remember seeing them on my most recent trip to the US, but in the 90s there were weird seatbelts that tracked out along a rail when the door opened to wrap round the driver when they go in.

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Boffin

Re: Shock news. US drivers actually use safety belts?

Yeah, vehicles these days are stupid safe (at least for collisions) versus a couple decades ago. My years in fire rescue yielded (geddit?) a few choice nicknames, such as the Honda Accordion. Very high tech stuff. If you're curious about the latest and greatest, check out boronextrication.com to see how we get you out of those cages ...

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in the 90s there were weird seatbelts

IIRC: That was supposed to be an active restraint system that was cheaper to install than the alternative airbags. I had that in a vehicle and it was the most annoying, intrusive piece of engineering that anyone could have devised - which is probably why airbags won out.

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Re: "The occupants wear seatbelts and airbags fly out from all around, "

@werdsmith: not quite. SRS airbags (the SRS stands for "Supplemental Restraint System") are intended to work in conjunction with seatbelts. There are multiple types of airbags: my 2011 Tundra, for example, has the 'standard' ones that deploy from the steering wheel and dashboard, but also two different side-impact airbags (a 'curtain' style and one that deploys for mid-torso protection), and a knee airbag.

I'm not certain what the standards are in the UK and the EU, but the US has a federal standard (FMVSS208) that dictate what the minimum requirements are for new vehicles.

The tracked automatic seatbelts that were popular in the 90's are no longer generally used- they tend to be too difficult to maintain as they age.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Shock news. US drivers actually use safety belts?

> There was one I saw one night that was so frightening I was afraid to look inside the car, but I did and encountered a smiling driver!

--- Just testing the airbags, mate!

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Trollface

They're both faultless...

Both the autopilot and the drive - we all know corners take Americans by surprise....

(Flame on!)

(Also in all seriousness - He admitted he 'Looked up and suddenly there was a sharp left hand corner' so.. what was he busy looking at that was more important than the road?)

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TRT
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Re: They're both faultless...

Rubbish! Clearly the cyclist's fault. Round 'em up, put 'em in a field and bomb the road tax avoiding, Lycra-wearing, smug, aggressive, road-hogging BASTARDS!

This comment was brought to you courtesy of The Daily Mail.

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Re: They're both faultless...

I come from the highlands of Scotland, have driven all over Europe, but the twistiest, most challenging road I've driven was in the US, from Highway 101 in Northern California to Fort Bragg on the Pacific coast in the dark and wet. Something about all those downhill bends through the giant redwoods focuses the mind.

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Re: They're both faultless...

@TRT - I thought you were channeling Kenny Everett!

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TRT
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Re: They're both faultless...

@Esme - It was all done in the best POSSIBLE taste.

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Binary driving

It's a bit hard to say with the fairly low sample size, but what makes me uncomfortable about self-driving cars is the requirement that, in a single environment (behind the wheel), the driver has to flip between two different states of engagement.

At the moment, it all seems a bit in the anti-Goldilocks zone.

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Maybe a problem with Teslas.....

.....could be the people who (can) buy them.

(Other known fault, the nut behind the wheel).

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