The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Feds Call Tesla's AutoPilot Safe

Not only does NHTSA exonerate AutoPilot for the May 2016 fatality, it credits the system for reducing crashes by 40 percent overall

1 min read
NHTSA says Tesla's AutoPilot not at fault for car crash
Image: Tesla Motors

Not only does the U.S. road safety regulator clear Tesla’s AutoPilot for any responsibility in causing a fatal crash in May 2016, the agency even credits the system for reducing crashes by 40 percent overall.

In the report, released yesterday [pdf], the National Highway Transportation Administration said that the crash—a side collision in an intersection between a Tesla Model S and a truck—was due to driver distraction that lasted for at least 7 seconds. It concluded the automatic emergency braking system (AEB) was not to blame because it hadn’t been designed for such a scenario.

“AEB systems used in the automotive industry through Model Year 2016 are rear-end collision avoidance technologies that are not designed to reliably perform in all crash modes, including crossing path collisions,” the report said.

The effect of autonomous driving system on collisionsImage: Tesla Motors

More important, NHTSA said that Autosteer, another element in Tesla’s driver-assistance package, had reduced crashes by nearly 40 percent. Before installation of Autosteer there were 1.3 crashes involving airbag performance for every million miles driven; that fell to 0.8 after installation. 

Many have criticized AutoPilot not so much for its technical prowess as for its ambitious-sounding name, which might be taken as an encouragement to rely on the system to drive the car without human supervision. NHTSA points out that Tesla has addressed the problem by giving drivers visual cues to test their attentiveness: miss one cue too many and you’ll "strike out," turning off Autopilot until you stop the car.

The Conversation (0)

Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-range radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

Keep Reading ↓Show less