back to article Tesla autopilot saves driver after he fell asleep at wheel on the freeway

In an exciting first, the autopilot feature in a Tesla car managed to save rather than kill its occupant. At 0300 PT on Friday, the highway patrol pulled alongside at grey Tesla Model S travelling at 70 miles an hour on a freeway down toward Silicon Valley and noticed that driver – 45-year-old Alexander Samek – appeared to be …

Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

The primary goal of autonomous vehicles is to increase productivity by reducing employment in the transportation industry. There is no money to be made in making fewer cars, the sharing concept was naive (to be kind). Which innocent to kill is similar nonsense; they will kill indiscriminately and at their discretion ( although I liked Alastair Dabb's kill the country musicians first). If driverless cars flow down to the individuals, it is more likely to be driven by commercial interests forcing non autonomous vehicles to be illegal; so that a container full of steaks isn't wasted when one of Musks monsters flattens a family.

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Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

I disagree. The reason I want one is for efficiency, yes, but my efficiency while riding in it. I can use the time spent in transport working on things, or reading, or something useful. Obviously, that's not safe to do yet, but there are real benefits to the users of the personal cars in addition to companies doing transport. Nobody thinks it is acceptable if a car will just crash into things, which is why I'm not expecting to get one of these for at least a decade, but there are many reasons to want one, even if you personally don't.

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Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

Good luck trying to leave the motorway when the slow lane has a twenty long convoy of trucks in close formation and you're in the middle lane.

Similar ting happened on the German autobahn when they had a no-overtaking rule for trucks, the trucks all ended up in a big line behind a slow one and people died when they tried to cut in to exit and got it wrong.

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Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

The primary goal of autonomous vehicles is to increase productivity by reducing employment in the transportation industry.

Good luck with that, given how heavily unionised that industry is.

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Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

Have you never seen that episode of The Simpsons?

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Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

Create new company using robot trucks from the start, undercut prices, companies with drivers forced to downsize or close - nothing a union can really do about that, except try and complain to the government to get the automated vehicles banned.

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Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

For the foreseeable future self driving trucks will still have 'drivers', if only to prevent robbery, but the big point for transport companies is those trucks will be able to keep moving, at least, 22 hours a day

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Re: The question to ask is whether self-driving trucks will ever be a thing.

Good luck trying to leave the motorway when the slow lane has a twenty long convoy of trucks in close formation and you're in the middle lane.

In the autonomous world the trucks will be self driving and cooperatively communicating with surrounding traffic. they can then predict the arrival of the car at the exit and make space.

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FAIL

The elephant in the back seat

So, if there is no driver giving signs of life, how the feck does the car manage to carry right on as if there is?

@Elonmusk: The default behaviour is not happening. That is a bug the size of an elephant. Look into it, or get cuffed when the court case that notices your failure to do so comes up.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

"So, if there is no driver giving signs of life, how the feck does the car manage to carry right on as if there is?"

I was wondering that too. Is it possible to fall asleep while holding the steering wheel and not not let go? If this is one of those edge cases Tesla didn't consider, then they need to add some extra sensors to check. The "black box" should indicate if the steering wheel sensors where properly activated by the drivers hands.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

"if there is no driver giving signs of life, how the feck does the car manage to carry right on as if there is?"

Spot on. This is not the correct behaviour, the car should *ALREADY* have slowed down, pulled over and flashed hazard lights.

However with regard to the article highlighting the times that autopilot has crashed - it's 5 times with 2 fatalities. You can be 100% sure that if there were any others, they would be well-known and very public, because, Tesla and because, Autopilot. So how does 5 crashes and 2 fatalities in approx 3 years and god-knows-many-miles since deployment compare with human-driven cars.

Without that comparison the criticism is meaningless. Self-driving cars don't need to be perfect to be deployed, they just need to be better than the average human (which is actually quite a low bar), and will improve from there.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

I can see Tesla eventually making drivers having to play a game of Simon to prove they're awake and then drivers will crashing when forced to take over because they're not aware of what's going on on the road because they're concentrating on the game.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

The problem came in the test for alertness. You have to pat the steering column and tell the car it's your best pal ever.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

Some vehicles do have devices that require a breath test to activate the vehicle (mandated on some ex-drunks) - a small start.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

"Without that comparison the criticism is meaningless. "

Autopilot has 4x the accident rate of non-tesla drivers, and tesla drivers have 3x the accident rate of non-tesla drivers.

https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1107109_teslas-own-numbers-show-autopilot-has-higher-crash-rate-than-human-drivers

https://medium.com/@MidwesternHedgi/teslas-driver-fatality-rate-is-more-than-triple-that-of-luxury-cars-and-likely-even-higher-433670ddde17

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Re: Self-driving cars don't need to be perfect to be deployed

Yes, they do.

I accept that a human driver is imperfect because I don't have the choice.

I do not accept that a software-driven car can make any mistakes. Every instance of doubt should immediately result in either a slowing down or an emergency stop of the automated vehicle to ensure life preservation. Resuming trajectory to happen only when all sensors give the all-clear. If that is impossible, request of a traffic drone to check and authorize continued movement, or call in a support team - or the police if necessary - to resolve the situation.

Being in a car is not a God-given right. It is a privilege that stops when human life is endangered. A human can disregard this, and end up in jail with one or more deaths on his conscience for the rest of his life.

There is exactly zero reason to give that privilege to a computer.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

So how does 5 crashes and 2 fatalities in approx 3 years and god-knows-many-miles since deployment compare with human-driven cars.

Depending on which report you read the exact figure varies, but they all seem to be around 1 billion miles of cumulative Autopilot, and around 10 billion Tesla fleet miles in all modes.

https://electrek.co/2018/07/17/tesla-autopilot-miles-shadow-mode-report/

And according to OECD IRTAD data for 2017, road casualties in the US are 7.0 deaths per billion vehicle km.

Tesla Autopilot: 2 deaths per billion miles

US average: 11.2 deaths per billion miles

So at crude face value it looks like Tesla's doing well, except that's not adjusted for vehicle type and driver population, nor for the fact that Autopilot is something you'd engage on the open road. All of which I'd expect to bring the US average figure down dramatically, perhaps by a factor or 3-4, based largely on UK experience that shows that major non-urban roads are significantly safer per vehicle mile than urban and minor roads.

Overall, I don't think the evidence strongly points one way or the other when measuring fatalities per vehicle mile.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

"The default behaviour is not happening. That is a bug the size of an elephant."

Wrong. See word in bold.

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Re: Self-driving cars don't need to be perfect to be deployed

An immediate slowdown or emergency stop at any uncertainty is extremely reckless and will kill people. Not could, will. It sounds like a great idea for a car on an empty road or test track, but think about the consequences if you're being tailgated, or are in dense 70 mph freeway traffic, or have a passenger who isn't wearing a seatbelt.

Remember that the majority of collisions with Google's self-driving cars occurred when they followed the rules of the road as written, but the person behind them wanted to run a yellow/red light.

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Re: Self-driving cars don't need to be perfect to be deployed

I accept that a human driver is imperfect because I don't have the choice.

It stands to follow then that computer controlled cars will never, ever be 100% safe because humans do the programming.

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

Remember that movie where the kid "learns" to drive, "borrows" his grandad's car, a drunk man steals it... falls asleep with both hands inside the wheel... (so there is body heat and a heartbeat at or near the wheel), but the guy is drunk out cold...

Straight from 1987... (quite obviously named "License to Drive", because he never actually got the license.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/License_to_Drive

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Re: The elephant in the back seat

Two Coreys and Heather Grahame? What more could you want from a film?

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Anonymous Coward

An officer then drove the car off the freeway

Whaat ? Autopilot can't do this by itself ? What is it good for then ?

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Easy to Spot

Driving between the lines isn't typical of most any, driver of California roads, obviously some sort of artificial intelligence must be at play.

Way too automated and as it ends up, way too wrong.

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Re: Easy to Spot

A sensible 70 MPH in a 65 MPH zone is a dead-giveaway too. CA driving culture is to travel 45 MPH in the fast lane until cars start honking, get angry, speed up to 90 MPH, resume using your cell phone, swerve around, realize that it's dangerous to drive 90 MPH while using a cellphone, slow down, then resume traveling 45 MPH while using a cell phone in the fast lane.

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Re: Easy to Spot

And for the autopilot to fit in on California freeways, it would need to violate the speed limit at all times, since that's pretty much standard there. Hmm, if Musk has them set to not speed, then it will actually create a hazard, as any Cali driver or cop will attest.

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Re: Easy to Spot

"Hmm, if Musk has them set to not speed, then it will actually create a hazard, as any Cali driver or cop will attest."

From a cops perspective, that sounds like a perfect catch-22. Not speeding? Get ticketed for causing and obstruction. Speeding? Get a speeding ticket. Either way, they get to pull pretty much anyone over at any time and maybe find "cause" to search the car etc too.

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Re: Easy to Spot

You need probable cause to search a car in theory but if I am not mistaken driving drunk is probable cause, and yes some freeways do have a minimum speed limit.

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Re: Easy to Spot

Probable cause..

Not being white, with intent

Yup, that there should cover it.

In a somewhat related story - did you hear about the nutter who took a Model T Ford across the US after 15 minutes driving one*. Spoiler alert he's still alive and he wrote a book.

*Model Ts have a 4ish speed kind-of-manual gearbox and three pedals. The slight problem being that the gearbox has two ratios the transaxle the same - and the middle pedal is actually reverse gear. The gearbox is controlled by the left side pedal (L-N-H) and you do have brakes but Microsoft might call them press & pray. Did I mention it will try its best to kill you if you try to use the starting handle?

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Re: Easy to Spot

> "From a cops perspective, that sounds like a perfect catch-22."

In theory, yes, but any ticket less than ten MPH over will generally be dropped by judges, and the cops know this. The de facto "speed limit" is now ambiguous and open to subjective interpretation, but the law does allow cops to write you up anyway if in their opinion you were driving at an "unsafe speed," regardless of your actual speed. Thus the stated limit is more of a guideline anyway.

The trick is to stay in the flow, which generally is well over the limit much of the time, except when traffic is heavy, which is most of the time.

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Re: Easy to Spot

At one point, cops wouldn't ticket for driving over the speed limit, but would definitely ticket for driving slower than everyone else. If the speed limit was 60 and everyone was going 80, you'd be ticketed for driving the speed limit. I don't know if the policy has changed as it's been decades since I set foot (or tire) into CA.

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Re: Easy to Spot

So a cop would give someone a ticket for driving on the speed limit in litigation-happy USA?

Yes, I can really see that working out.

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Re: Easy to Spot

As I recall it was something along the lines of "creating a blockage" but translated as "failure to keep up with traffic". As I said, I don't know if they still do this.

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Good thing they didn't program this feature

Suppose the Tesla had been programmed to pass slow-moving vehicles?

Wait for it: Robot car chased by robot police car. Skynet, coming soon to a freeway near you.

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Re: Good thing they didn't program this feature

Suppose the Tesla had been programmed to pass slow-moving vehicles?

That can do that. I don't think this one was in that mode. It was just using active cruise and lane assist.

Which is the same as my ordinary Toyota can do.

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Time for a firmware update?

If you've ever had the pleasure of being pulled over by the CHP then you'll know that they make it pretty obvious that's what they want you to do -- the bright red light, the siren and so on. I'd guess that sometime soon there will be an update to Telsa software that identifies a cop car on your tail that wants you to stop and if you don't react within a short window it will bring the car to a halt.

As for it only being a few miles from where a Tesla came to grief on a gore point (that's what they call 'em around here) I'd guess that the firmware has been tweaked by now to try to unambiguously identify this situation. For those of us who are used to California freeways, especially in urban areas, its easy enough to get confused by the layout of junctions -- older ones can be incredibly confusing if you don't already know the road layout -- so I'd guess that Tesla has taken this problem in hand. (For readers who aren't used to freeways, they just drive on the M6 or something like that, then there's nothing close to the level of confusion and general intellectual mayhem that passes for US road signage in the UK -- motorway signs are clear and easy to read, the roads are comparatively well lit and people don't space junctions so you have to swerve over umpteen lanes of traffic for a ramp that's a mere half mile or less from the previous one.)

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Re: Time for a firmware update?

"there's nothing close to the level of confusion and general intellectual mayhem that passes for US road signage in the UK"

I've heard similar from friends and family who have driven in the US. A sat-nav with lane guidance is essential if you don't know the roads. They tell me that it's not uncommon for the *only* signs relating to a junction to be actually at the junction itself, no advance warning signs at all.

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Re: Time for a firmware update?

Except in Houston, Texas, where I distinctly remember having to swerve across seven lanes of traffic to make a junction.

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Re: Time for a firmware update?

You haven't driven in Birmingham (UK) then. Sometimes continuing on your route will mean going straight ahead. Other times you'll need to be in the right lane as your route goes into a sudden right turn/slip road but most of the road you're on carries on forward ( to somewhere). Other times it's to the left. And then there's the roundabouts with 5 or more exits, several of which actually go in a different direction to how they first appear, but all of which require several lane changes.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time for a firmware update?

> (For readers who aren't used to freeways, they just drive on the M6 or something like that, then there's nothing close to the level of confusion and general intellectual mayhem that passes for US road signage in the UK -- motorway signs are clear and easy to read, the roads are comparatively well lit and people don't space junctions so you have to swerve over umpteen lanes of traffic for a ramp that's a mere half mile or less from the previous one.)

<

Eh, no. Its just different. Different history. Its a bit like saying that streets in London are a brain dead stupid bloody mess because they are are not built on a gridiron pattern like in most of LA. Its not like the first streets in London were not on a gridiron. Which the locals then promptly utterly screwed up over the next 1800 years.

The highway system in California has a very well worked out logic of its own, given the constraints the various parts were built under. At various times. The only problems I've had in the past were non matching on ramps / off ramps. And thats about it. The fact that the transition from the Hollywood Freeway to the Ventura Freeway North involves crossing almost a dozen lanes in just over a mile is just one of those physical facts of life of road engineering. All well signposted. If you know were and when to look. But there again I learned my big city driving skills in LA 30 plus years ago in a car that made a Lada look like a hotrod. A good way to learn to drive like a local.

The UK motorways are OK signage wise but the French do it better. Best traffic engineering I've seen anywhere.

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Re: Time for a firmware update?

And the A38 "Aston Distressway" where the same two lanes come on and go off again, with a gap in the barrier for both incoming and exiting traffic to share....as well as no central barrier and a centre lane of red tarmac which is into town in the morning, out of town in the evening and shut at other times, controlled by overhead gantry signs. Sort that lot out Tesla......

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Anonymous Coward

http://y2u.be/HHOTtoNHYO0

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Are these real American cops?

They didn't just shoot him for not pulling over?

Not joking, actually...

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Re: Are these real American cops?

California Highway Patrol officers typically aren't anywhere near as trigger-happy as most city police are, probably for a variety of reasons.

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Autopilot normally saves lives. That's kind of the point of it.

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How can it ‘normally’ save lives when this is the first publicized case where they actually did, in contrast to the well-known cases where they got drivers killed instead? For that matter, if the CHP hadn't noticed the guy and managed to force the car to stop, there's a good chance that it would've run into the deadly barrier a few minutes later, so we really can't say that the car saved him.

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Stop

"death by autopilot" makes headlines.

"driver assist assisted driver" doesn't. Generally.

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In a Waymo incident, would that be "Death By Chocolate Factory"?

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"Default Autopilot behavior, if there’s no driver input, is to slow gradually to a stop & turn on hazard lights."

I suppose their explanation will be that it was slowing very gradually. So gradually nobody noticed.

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Big Brother

Pretty soon....

...the authorities will want a software based back-door kill-switch.

I have control

No citizen, I have control...

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