Tesla’s Autopilot Blamed for Killing another Driver in China

Tesla’s Autopilot Blamed for Killing another Driver in China

According to a recent report, a 23-year-old Chinese driver died in a fatal car crash while his Tesla Model S was reportedly on Autopilot mode. Although the man died in January, it is only recently the Chinese media revealed a dashcam footage of the tragic incident.

Gao Yaning is the second Chinese driver dying in a Tesla car while on Autopilot. Another Tesla driver died in August after he left the car unattended. Reportedly, Luo Zhen, 33, believed Autopilot meant “self-driving.”

Critics have long said Tesla Motors should use another term for the system such as an “assisted driving” mode.

In the U.S., a Tesla Model S user from Florida also died in an Autopilot-related car crash. In that case, the system’s sensors, reportedly, failed to detect a white truck against a bright skyline.

The recently released footage shows how Gao’s luxury Sedan ploughs into a large vehicle parked in the left lane of a major highway near Hong-Kong. Before the crash, there were no signs of braking or attempts to prevent the collision whatsoever.

The stationary vehicle has no lights on, and the visibility is reduced because of fog. Authorities later identified the vehicle as a street-cleaning truck.

Tesla’s Response

On Wednesday, Tesla declined to confirm the fact the vehicle was on semi-autonomous driving at the time of the collision. The company said it had ‘no way of knowing’ that.

Yet, police reports show they found no traces of braking on the road.

Tesla explained the crash damaged the car’s communications system, so it wasn’t able to beam back log data.

Reportedly, the man’s family filed a lawsuit against the company and the car-dealer which sold the car in July. They said Gao borrowed the vehicle from his father on that day.

Tesla unveiled that it had tried before the suit to work with the man’s family but they were uncooperative. The company said Gao’s family declined to provide any details that may help it solve the cause of the accident.

This week, the car maker’s founder and chief executive Elon Musk unveiled new updates to the Autopilot system. Musk added the updates are designed to lower the number and severity of such incidents.

Autopilot Has Limitations

So far, Tesla’s Autopilot mode is very limited. It is very good at keeping the car within a specific lane, to maintain a constant speed, and brake automatically. Yet, as the latest accidents have shown, it is highly unreliable when it comes to detecting obstacles on the road.

This is why, the company has trained drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to intervene at any time. Even the radar which the company added in 2014 doesn’t make the system safer.

The radar was designed to detect large obstacles that may escape optic sensors in bright, sunny days or bad weather. Yet, the radar somehow failed to do its job in the three men’s case.

The recently announced improvements will, reportedly, instruct the Autopilot to give priority to radar-acquired data, and be less reliant on the car’s cameras. The radar was also improved with sharper signal.
Musk disclosed he tried to implement the changes last year but he was unable due to technical reasons.

Image Source: Wikimedia

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