back to article Tesla death smash probe: Neither driver nor autopilot saw the truck

American crash investigators have thrown open their files on a fatal motorway collision between a Tesla Model S and a truck, confirming Tesla’s earlier statement that its autopilot failed to notice the truck blocking the car’s path. The accident, which happened in May last year on US Highway 27A in Florida’s Levy County, left …

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Re: They still call it Autopilot?

Besides, it does more than an actual autopilot in a plane so...

And the autopilot in the plane has *way* more testing before being deployed for live use

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Anonymous Coward

Re: They still call it Autopilot?

"Except people have become rather ingenious at mindlessly dealing with nuisances such as vigilance controls."

Like when I wake up an hour late, and realise I must have hit the snooze button 6 or 7 times, but I don't remember doing it at all.

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Re: They still call it Autopilot?

Is that a special addon to stop old folks driving the car?

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Re: They still call it Autopilot?

Indeed - plus the benefit of a bunch of human beings on the ground making sure no other vehicles are in the way

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Re: They still call it Autopilot?

presumably the sensor suite must have been damaged too badly for it to navigate properly,

The crash report states the Tesla's battery pack and navigation system were disabled by the collision, so it must have simply coasted more or less straight on, gradually leaving the road. It then hit a fence and an utility pole, coming to a stop after some 300m. From the picture in the article it appears those impacts weren't very violent.

Would the battery cutting out disable the brakes? So that even if the car's logic (if still working, which it probably wasn't) had commanded braking following the loss of camera and other sensor data, it simply couldn't?

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Re: They still call it Autopilot?

>I'm also amazed to learn from this that the car didn't know it had crashed,

We need lawmakers to demand all cars have a "roof torn off by driving under truck" sensor

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NTSB authority

The NTSB does not issue fines or judgements. Their role is to find the root cause of the accident and make recommendations to avoid the problem in the future. Any fines or administrative action against Tesla (in this case) would be done a by different agency. Also, recommendations are implemented by other agencies. Also, the NTSB will work with any interested parties to accident to determine the cause including the vehicle manufacturers and owners.

Based on the various articles I have seen, the driver was at fault for ignoring system warnings he take more control. So other than improving the sensor 'viewing' area and some interlocks, I doubt much will happen to Tesla since it appears the driver ignored repeatedly safety warnings.

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Anonymous Coward

74 mph, not in active control

Hmmmm, seems legit.

NOT!

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Re: 74 mph, not in active control

Would this have happened if he had set the cruise control to 73mph? Or, just putting it out there, 65mph?

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I hate them stealth trucks

How on earth are you supposed to see something shiny and the size of a housel and have time to react? Is there a Darwin nomination here?

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Re: I hate them stealth trucks

The cars' sensors aren't perfect yet.

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Pint

Re: I hate them stealth trucks

jmarked offered, "The cars' sensors aren't perfect yet."

Understatement of the Decade.

A.I. Outdoors needs lots of sensors. Vastly more than they have now.

Helen Keller was intelligent, but she was rubbish outdoors.

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Re: I hate them stealth trucks

The faulty sensor here, wasn't part of the car...

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Still driver in charge...

In this case both vehicles were being driven by humans, and the accident was a consequence of their actions, or inaction. The level of automation used in one vehicle didn't really change that.

Had the Tesla driver been watching the road and seen the truck, he could have overridden the software by attempting to brake or swerve, and so possibly avoided or at least mitigated the impact.

I suspect that lawyers and insurers will have a field day when there are accidents involving self-driving taxis and the like where technically (or indeed physically) nobody is at the wheel.

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Missing information

Presumably this accident happened at a crossroads, as the car appeared to hit the middle of the trailer at 90 degrees. If so, what were the road priorities?

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Facepalm

RTFA

"But then a truck slowly pulled out of a side road onto the highway,"

And even if you have right-of-way, it's ill-advised not to yield to something large and heavy in your path (a.k.a. the Sixteen Ton Rule)

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Re: RTFA

How does pulling on to a highway result in a 90degree hit in the middle of a trailer?

How wide was the highway?

What lane was the car in?

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Re: RTFA

From the NTSB investigation: The truck was traveling west and then turned south across the eastbound lanes. Brown’s Tesla was traveling east in the rightmost lane. So, not quite "out of a side road", but rather "into a side road", but the end effect is the same, the truck being squarely across the lane the Tesla was in.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: RTFA

> How does pulling on to a highway result in a 90degree hit in the middle of a trailer?

T-junction. Truck turning left. Means it needs to cross the near lanes, then the median, to complete a left turn. Collision happened in near lanes.

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Re: RTFA

@Stoneshop

Thanks for that. Gives a very different picture from what the article suggests.

Have one of these.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Anonymous Coward

Re: RTFA

And even if you have right-of-way, it's ill-advised not to yield to something large and heavy in your path (a.k.a. the Sixteen Ton Rule)

I seem to recall this in sailing, too. On sail-powered 12 foot boat, you have the right of way over powered vessels, but that fully loaded supertanker you're approaching is probably NOT going to yield to you.

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Pint

Distinction to be made...

The human didn't notice the truck because he wasn't even looking out through the large transparent panel conveniently fitted to the bodywork just in front of his face. If he'd bothered to look, his eyes would not have failed him.

The Tesla Autopilot has no such explanation. It had one job, and failed.

Adding to this is that it didn't even register the impact, didn't even notice that its roof had been removed, and then idiotically drove off the road and crashed.

It's clearly not fit for purpose. Hubris in a can.

How on Earth do they get away with it?

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Technology assists it doesnt do it for you

Give an inch and some people will take a mile. I've seen too many people assuming that to assist or aid is to do completely, it isn't. The person that has 100% responsibility when they start the engine of their car is themselves. Ignoring warnings, basically lying back and assuming that everything will be done for you is lazy and resulted in his death.

I see it all the time when I go to companies that are implementing some sort of new tech and the boss says, well if we automate x we'll never need to do anything. Nope, if you automate X you're still responsible for ensuring its completed to a satisfactory level. If you don't monitor it and it doesn't work, it's your fault. Automation changes your job it doesn't remove it.

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Pint

Re: Technology assists it doesnt do it for you

Except Tesla allowed owners to make false assumptions fueled by B.S. marketing. Every lesson learned from this incident, every change, every new warning, every update....they're all evidence of previous hubris driven failures. They deserve some blame.

But yes, most fault falls on the naive driver. He obviously didn't actually understand where State of the Art A.I. technology really is. His view was wildly ill-informed. He believed the claims.

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Re: Technology assists it doesnt do it for you

Utter BS. He ignored SIX warnings to pay more attention. The marketing doesn't come into it.

And as a former SEAL - who presumably trained to have Situational Awareness well in excess of the normal herd - he had even less excuse than most.

Autodarwinated. Nuff Said.

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Re: Technology assists it doesnt do it for you

"Give an inch and some people will take a mile. I've seen too many people assuming that to assist or aid is to do completely, it isn't."

You'd almost think no one had ever seen the apocryphal story of the motor-home driver crashing while on cruise control because he went back to make a cup of coffee. Considering the number of times it gets trotted out, you'd think that any company producing vehicles with cruise control from basic through adaptive, to lane-assist, they'd have big warnings all over the place, eg manuals and on the sun-visor, maybe on the steering wheel, to remind people they are still in charge. People are people, and the engineers simply CANNOT assume that drivers will understand the limitations.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Technology assists it doesnt do it for you

The trouble with big stupid warnings all over the place is that it can make it harder to spot the warnings that are actually useful, though I've noticed some manufacturers have found a way to deal with that: some products I've bought recently had an 8-page booklet, 7 pages of which were covered with stupid boilerplate warnings possibly generated by the legal department, mostly written in the imperative, while the 8th page had some genuinely useful advice written by an intelligent human for consumption by intelligent humans, giving concrete examples of things that could go wrong and ways in which the product differs, perhaps unexpectedly, from other products. Because of the fonts and layout it's very easy to find the one page worth reading.

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Re: Technology assists it doesnt do it for you

Autodarwinated. Love that.

Instant Karma. Love that too.

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'Giving warnings that can be ignored is pointless...'

Pretty sure the law states you are responsible for your car when driving, no matter what systems exist around it (and Captains of Boats and Planes have the same thing - even with Autopilot.)

Rules, advise and laws all exist, doesn't mean everyone will obey them.

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"Rules, advise and laws all exist, doesn't mean everyone will obey them."

But what happens when it reaches the point that NONE obey them, giving you a situation like Prohibition where everyone broke the law because they felt it was an ass?

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Skipped to the end after a few comments because this is an unsolvable & unknowable situation. Every side arguing like they are 100% correct with no room for error. This may, that might, blah blah.... If you believe in self-driving cars you'll make excuses for what happened, if you don't then you'll use it as proof they are the devil incarnate...

Self-driving cars are coming.

There will be fewer accidents.

That is all.

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Anonymous Coward

Self-driving cars are coming.

In this case, at 74mph, directly towards a much larger and heavier vehicle

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Self-driving cars are coming.

There will be fewer accidents.

Yeah, because all cars will obey all traffic laws so they'll never move from the spot.

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A dead mans switch is definitely the logical extension of the technology they're already using, but it's only designed to stay in lane, so pulling over to stop might be asking too much right now.

Switching on hazard lights, slowing gently to a stop, applying the horn etc, is going to leave a car prone on the highway, but this is a scenario you'd hope other drivers are ready for.

We're unlikely to ever know, but I'm going to assume the best of the deceased and he was incapacitated through no fault of his own and this sadly had a tragic end.

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So let me get this straight - Tesla uses AI hooked up to a camera to recognise obstacles?

There's no fall back with a proximity detection system like radar?

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Anonymous Coward

Darwin award time...

"Brown “was a friend to Tesla ...who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission"

Well more fool him, pity he had to pay for his stupidity with his life, but thats what happens when you put your life in the hands of beta software and don't bother paying any attention!

I feel sorry for the truck driver.

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@AC

"I have always said that the US is a thirld worl country with money.

Look at it: almost no electrification in rail, very expensive infrastructures crumbling for lack of maintenance, very expensive yet overall innefective health system, and very little done to prevent serious injury or death in many aspects: badly designed electric plugs, no decent protections in trucks, no serious safety building standards, almost no checking of drinking water quality, etc etc etc."

You have no idea what you are talking about.

In large metro areas we do have electrified rail. The size of the country prohibits running a 3rd rail for class A railroads. The distances are too great.

Health Care. Well, it isn't perfect and is getting worse from a cost perspective, but I've heard plenty of horror stories about the 'free' health care in the UK.

Building code in the US is probably the best in the world. We have high rise buildings that can withstand 7.0+ earth quakes and homes that can do the same. Older buildings are either required to be brought up to code or are condemned. And considering the tragic fire last week in the UK due to cutting corners, I don't think you have any room to talk there.

Car safety requirements are a big reason why a good percentage of cars built in Europe are not allowed into this country.

Shall I continue?

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Coat

'Mericah

Actually, in the U.K., electrified NATIONAL railways run NOT with a third rail but with overhead cables and a pantograph to bridge the gap - like trolley buses.

We have rail lines running from London up to Scotland. It's 415 miles from London to Edinburgh. The US is big, but not that big to have more than 500 miles between stations.

As for your "best in the world" building code, that's total cobblers. Buildings may be earthquake proof in areas like San Andreas fault, but they're still poorly constructed.

Compare a partition wall in the U.K. with the US. We use insulation between the two layers of plasterboard (drywall) and then two skims of plaster. Solid walls.

You guys just hang the dry wall and say "job done".

You build matchstick houses in tornado zones (ever read Three Little Pigs?)

I've seen office towers under construction that were made of timber FFS!

And of course your electrical system is a joke compared to the UK. Just compare our plugs, the safest in the world, with your flimsy bits of tinfoil that are so good at electrocuting people.

Anyway, back to the driving.... many Americans know about the daily fender benders on their commute. They often happen at the exact same place. But they don't happen because of some weird road layout. They happen because a good portion of Americans drive like total asshats.

In the U.K. we learn about braking distances and the "two second rule", which you double when it's wet. But that doesn't work for Americans. If you follow the two second rule, you end up with some dickhead flashing, honking his horn and gesticulating wildly that you're in his way. He wants to drive at 90 mph in the pouring rain, no headlights, and use the driving technique you used on 80s driving arcade games.

All y'all drive too damn close to each other.

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Coat

You can't fix stupid with technology

Driverless cars are on Alpha stage at best, he made a stupid decision and got the expected output, no one to blame but him, he paid the ultimate price.

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If $50 won't buy side bars

It should at least pay for lightweight reflective markers suited to the cameras in use.

Something like a big (1m long) bar or QR code slung under the trailer side might increase the detection distance?

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Devil

Re: If $50 won't buy side bars

QR code slung under the trailer side

... containing the URL for joesfenderbendershop.com, or similar car parts pr0n.

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Seeing the truck

I have read with interest all the "why didn't the autopilot/driver see the truck?" I won't speculate on white truck/sky contrast, but from personal experience there are vehicle and environment colors or conditions where an otherwise visible vehicle is hard to discern. There is a bright metallic blue that comes out every seven or eight years for US cars which looks lovely and quite vivid on the carlot, but somehow disappears on a sunny day. My mum had one, had three wrecks all adjudged not her fault, the last one totaled the car, all in under two years. You never see an older model with that color. IIRC, it was a Tyrol Blue Pontiac Tempest. Giving away my age here.

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Simple solution

The autopilot could, after warning the driver a few times, simply slow the vehicle down until they put their hands back on the wheel and show they're conscious and aware. If the driver continues to ignore, pull over on the shoulder and stop. Software can address some human stupidity but it's a hard problem and the human owns the blame when SW can't get their attention.

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Bah!

All this argument about side-impact bars is well taken, but the fact remains this car ran into the trailer at very high speed while the driver's brain was somewhere else.

Perhaps it's time to look at the question of speed while under "autopilot". Maybe limiting it to, say, 40 mph would ensure that people only used the function at survivable roadspeeds.

When I say 'survivable', I am of course referring to the car occupants. The poor buggers standing amongst the scenery are on their own.

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