Tesla's Musk says new Autopilot likely
would have prevented death
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[September 12, 2016]
By Alexandria Sage and David Shepardson
SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tesla
Motors Co Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Sunday the automaker was
updating its semi-autonomous driving system Autopilot with new limits on
hands-off driving and other improvements that likely would have
prevented a fatality in May.
Musk said the update, which will be available within a week or two
through an "over-the-air" software update, would rely foremost on radar
to give Tesla's electric luxury cars a better sense of what is around
them and when to brake.
New restrictions of Autopilot 8.0 are a nod to widespread concerns that
the system lulled users into a false sense of security through its
"hands-off" driving capability. The updated system now will temporarily
prevent drivers from using the system if they do not respond to audible
warnings to take back control of the car.
"We're making much more effective use of radar," Musk told journalists
on a phone call. "It will be a dramatic improvement in the safety of the
system done entirely through software."
Tesla's Autopilot, introduced in October, has been the focus of intense
scrutiny since it was revealed in July that a Tesla Model S driver,
Joshua Brown, was killed while using the technology in a May 7 collision
with a truck in Florida.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been
investigating Tesla's Autopilot system since June because of the fatal
accident. The agency had been briefed on the changes by Tesla and would
review them, spokesman Bryan Thomas said. He declined to offer an update
on the Tesla investigation.
Musk said it was "very likely" the improved Autopilot would have
prevented the death of Brown, whose car sped into the trailer of a truck
crossing a highway, but he cautioned that the update "doesn't mean
"PROBABILITY OF SAFETY"
"Perfect safety is really an impossible goal," Musk said. "It's about
improving the probability of safety. There won't ever be zero
fatalities, there won't ever be zero injuries."
One of the main challenges of using cameras and radars for a braking
system is how to prevent so-called false positives, in which a car might
think an overhead highway sign, for example, was an obstacle to be
Using radar and fleet learning, rather than relying primarily on
cameras, would solve that problem, Musk said.
"Anything metallic or dense, the radar system we're confident will be
able to detect that and initiate a braking event," he said.
Silicon Valley-based Tesla is known for its innovation in luxury
electric vehicles but some critics, including rival carmakers, have said
it was hasty in rolling out Autopilot. Tesla stood by Autopilot after
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A man looks around Tesla Motors' Model S P85 at its showroom in
Beijing January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
The revised system will sound warnings if drivers take their hands
off the wheel for more than a minute at speeds above 45 miles per
hour (72 kph) when there is no vehicle ahead, Musk said.
The warning will sound after the driverís hands are off the wheel
for more than three minutes when the Tesla is following another car
at speeds above 45 mph. The dashboard also will flash a pulsing
If the driver ignores three audible warnings in an hour, the system
will temporarily shut off until it is parked, Musk said.
Advanced Autopilot users, rather than new users, were most likely to
ignore warnings to put their hands back on the wheel, Musk said.
Besides the fallout from the fatality, Musk has had to prepare for
the Model 3 mass-market vehicle due late next year and completion of
its Nevada battery factory, while trying to sell skeptical investors
on the merits of a proposed acquisition of SolarCity.
On Sept. 1, SpaceX, where Musk serves as CEO, sustained what he
later called "the most difficult and complex failure" in the
commercial space company's history when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded
on its launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"One of the worst weeks ever, really," he told reporters.
Musk said he had wanted to improve Autopilot's capabilities last
year but was told it was impossible to do so without incurring more
"false positives," such as a car braking suddenly for a harmless tin
In July tweeted publicly that he was encouraged by talks with
supplier Bosch about improvements to radar.
"I wish we could have done it earlier," he said on Sunday. "The
perfect is the enemy of the good."
(Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Bill Trott)
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