Tesla's Autopilot May Have Saved A Life

The driver says the robot slammed on the brakes before he could, stopping just before hitting a pedestrian

2 min read
Tweet by Elon Musk
Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

The driver of a Tesla reports that the Autopilot feature in his car stopped him from hitting a pedestrian last Saturday night, in Washington, D.C.

The report was included in a message—with the driver’s identifying details blacked out—posted on Twitter by Tesla CEO chief Elon Musk. Musk noted that the story was confirmed by data logs.

imgImage: Elon Musk/Twitter

“It was night time, there was a lot of glare from the headlights of oncoming cars, and there was a siren in the distance,” the driver recounts. “We were having trouble figuring out if the siren was coming from behind us or from one of the side roads when a pedestrian stepped out in front of our Model S in the dark with dark clothes and in the middle of the road (not near an intersection).

“Before I could step on the brakes the car beeped [a warning] and the picture of a red car came up on my dash. The car slammed on the brakes before I could, and we stopped just inches from hitting the pedestrian. I guess that the car thought the pedestrian was another car in front of us? I am not sure if I would have been able to stop before hitting him, but I am so glad the car did.” 

If Autopilot did in fact save a life, it offsets the death in May of a Tesla driver who apparently was looking away from the road when Autopilot led his car into the side of a truck. That death—the only one in a modern robocar—has become “the elephant in the room” for road-safety experts, in the words of Mark R. Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Rosekind, speaking Wednesday at the Automated Vehicles Symposium, in San Francisco, wouldn’t comment directly on that crash or even mention Tesla by name. But he did stress that no one incident would “derail” the agency’s efforts to integrate self-driving cars into the regulatory system.

“We should be desperate for new tools that will help us save lives,” he said.

Nobody would accept a robocar technology that merely saved as many lives as it cost. But it’s still unclear how favorable that ratio must become to satisfy the critics of this or any other newfangled technology.

“Two times safer? Five times? Ten times?” asked Roskind. He provided no answer.

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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
Purple

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-wave radars, 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.

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