Does Autosteer Actually Deserve Credit For a 40% Reduction In Tesla Crashes?

Tesla’s high-flying image, which had been moving from strength to strength since early 2013, hit its biggest speed bump last year when its Autopilot semi-autonomous/Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) came under scrutiny in the wake of Joshua Brown’s death. Suddenly Tesla’s pioneering Autopilot system went from being one of the company’s key strengths to being a serious liability that raised troubling questions about the company’s safety culture. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tried to swat away these concerns with what proved to be a set of highly misleading statistics about Autopilot safety, but the issue was not laid to rest until NHTSA closed its investigation with a report that seemed to exonerate Autopilot as a safety risk. With a single sentence, NHTSA shut down the most dangerous PR problem in Tesla’s history:

The data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation.

Because NHTSA is the federal authority on automotive safety, with unparalleled resources to assess and investigate safety risks, this single sentence effectively shut down public concerns about Autopilot’s safety. In a terse statement on its company blog, Tesla noted

we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion

But how thorough was NHTSA’s investigation, and how accurate was its conclusion? As it turns out, the questions around Autopilot’s safety may not be as settled as Tesla and NHTSA would have you believe.

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CA DMV Report Sheds New Light On Misleading Tesla Autonomous Drive Video

On October 20th of last year Tesla Motors published an official blog post announcing an important development:

“as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”

Tesla backed up this bold claim with a slick video, set to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” which depicted one of the company’s Model X SUVs driving itself from a home in the Bay Area to the company’s headquarters near the Stanford University campus, apparently with no driver input. In a tweet linking to the video, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk described this demonstration in no uncertain terms:

“Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot”

After months of negative news about Tesla’s Autopilot in the wake of a deadly crash that the system had failed to prevent, the video prompted a return to the fawning, uncritical media coverage that characterized the initial launch of Autopilot. And by advertising a new sensor suite that made all existing Teslas obsolete, the company was able to bolster demand for its cars even as it discontinued the discounts that had driven sales in the third quarter. Like so many of Tesla’s publicity stunts, the video was a masterpiece of viral marketing that drove the company’s image to new heights… but like so many of Tesla’s publicity stunts it also turns out to have been extremely misleading.

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Everyone’s A Bad Driver (Except Me And My Autonomous Car)

In the good old days we worried that other humans were amoral instead of worrying that robots are amoral...

In the good old days we worried that other humans were amoral instead of worrying that robots are amoral…

When news broke this week that autonomous cars operated by Google and Delphi have been involved in 12 crashes since they began testing, the reaction was predictably breathless. Ever since the technology was announced, commentators have been obsessed with the technical and ethical shortcomings of the robot chauffeurs that Silicon Valley insists are the solution to the some 33,000 road deaths that take place in the US each year.

As driverless technology continues to advance, these fears won’t simply go away; on a psychological level, humans seem wired to fear anything that diminishes our sense of control, even if that sense of control is an illusion. This psychological barrier, irrational though it may be, demonstrates a crucial reality of the transition from cars to autonocars: developing technology that improves on the dismal safety record of human drivers is far easier than re-organizing social and individual values that have evolved over the hundred-year history of the automobile.

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7,000 meters under the sea, Nissan develops the all-seeing car, to emerge commercially in 3 years

Making Nissan drivers all-seeing since 2007

Making Nissan drivers all-seeing since 2007

Crawling along the bottom of the ocean, an underwater robot uses technology that is one of the core technologies for Nissan’s drive towards self-driving cars. The deeply submerged robot’s vision is provided by an upgraded version of Nissan’s Around View Monitor (AVM). First commercialized way back in 2007, AVM provides a 360-degree view of the outside of the car, as if the driver hovers in a helicopter over the car. Saving the lives of countless pets in parking lots, Nissan added moving object detection technology to AVM in 2011. In the submerged robot, AVM has received three-dimensional picture processing capability, an important step to sense distances at the blink of an eye, and without the need of slower radars, or much slower ultrasound sensors, all of which rely on an echo. If it wouldn’t be so hackneyed, the 3D version opens a new dimension in autonomous driving. [Continue Reading]

Champs Tesla and Google are chumps in China: Model S sans sat nav, China closed to self-driving cars

BAIDU MAP

For years, Detroit has produced very little to be proud of. In search of the all-American auto hero, journalists and Wall Street alike turn to Tesla and Google. Both are very light on unit sales, but big on lofty promises. Tesla promises to save the world from suffocation – once people buy their pricey battery-operated cars en masse. Google promises to do away with the biggest problem in the car business – the driver. The myopic observer only has to look as far as the world’s largest car market to watch the hopes vanish in a cloud of Beijing-sized smog. [Continue Reading]