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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Don’t Feed The “Ban Driving” Trolls

They see me trolling...

Cars and the people who love them have taken a bit of a trolling in the last week, as autonomous car car firms and the people who love them become increasingly convinced that a sea change is in the offing. The trolling began with a Buzzfeed article that told car fans to “go f*ck a tailpipe” if they think their love of driving outweighs the moral obligation to reduce the 1.2 million lives that are lost each year in cars, and things took off from there. The latest salvo, from Fusion, argues that driving should be made illegal within 15 years. Though self-driving cars are unquestionably the most consequential challenge to face cars in their more than hundred years as a cornerstone of modern society, the conversation around this massive opportunity needs to become a lot more pragmatic and constructive if we’re going to make the most of it.

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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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Nissan makes self driving tech a standard feature across all segments

The first of many

The first of many

Large OEMs roll out self-driving features in their mass market cars, while Tesla is still working on the software that one day will do the same for its ballyhooed Model S. “We will make automatic braking a standard feature on all volume-selling models in Japan, by the end of fall of 2015,” Nissan’s Executive Vice President Takao Katagiri said today during a launch event for the hybrid version of the X-Trail compact SUV in Oppama near Yokohama. At Nissan, you get the tech for free, with purchase of a new car. [Continue Reading]