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Tesla avoids recall as Autopilot exonerated over fatal crash


Tesla Autopilot

Tesla will not be forced to recall cars featuring the controversial Autopilot software after US regulators decided to close a six-month investigation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined the death of a driver in Florida was not caused by a defect within the vehicle.

In May last year Johsua Brown died while using Autopilot on his Model S, but today’s announcement clears the semi-autonomous feature of any blame.

At the time Tesla says Autopilot was unable to detect the white side of the vehicle against the bright sun.

Since that incident, Tesla has announced plans to launch improvements to Autopilot early in 2017 and has reiterated the need for drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all time.

Related: What is Tesla Autopilot

If anything, Autopilot emerges from the NHTSA investigation, which blames an “extended period of distraction (at least 7 seconds),” with more credit.

The full report points out a fall in the 40% crash rate when Autopilot is engaged. It also states Tesla fairly evaluated the “unreasonable risk to safety” that may be presented by driver misuse.

In closing, the report said: “A safety-related defect trend has not been identified at this time and further examination of this issue does not appear to be warranted. Accordingly, this investigation is closed.

“The closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists. The agency will monitor the issue and reserves the right to take future action if warranted by the circumstances.”

Head-to-Head: Is Tesla Autopilot Safe?

Is Autopilot ready for public highways? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


January 20, 2017, 9:54 am

Just watched your video. Have to take issue with Andy's point that Tesla is using the term "autopilot" to refer to a level of automation that is lower than that provided by real autopilots in aeroplanes. In fact, in aviation, the autopilot does something very similar to what Tesla's autopilot does. The plane does not "fly itself". It flies according to how it has been programmed to fly by the pilot. Originally, autopilots had very basic functions; they would maintain a given altitude, pitch, speed, heading, or some combination of these. Nowadays, the autopilot is often paired a Flight Management Computer (FMC) which means the pilot can program a route with "waypoints" for the autopilot to follow. Part of the route can indeed include landing of the vehicle, but the entire system is still completely unintelligent and will not respond dynamically to unintended events arising.

In this sense, it is actually significantly less intelligent than Tesla's autopilot.

The problem here is not with Tesla's use of the word "autopilot", so much as the public's overestimation of what an aviation autopilot can actually do.

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