Tesla on Fatal Autopilot Crash: Feature Still in ‘Public Beta Phase’

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Tesla’s autopilot feature has claimed its first victim following a crash on May 7th in Williston, Florida.

This is the first known fatality involving a Tesla Model S vehicle utilizing its autopilot function, killing a forty-year old Ohio resident named Joshua Brown. Details about the crash were first released via a Tesla blog post yesterday.

The crash occurred on a divided highway when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Tesla vehicle. Tesla notes that the regardless of the autopilot feature being activated, the responsibility for driving is always on the car’s driver; however it seems in this instance that neither the driver nor Tesla’s autopilot feature were able to notice the trailer against the brightly lit sky.

Tesla reported the accident to the NHTSA, who are performing an investigation into the crash, but Tesla have assured their customers that the investigation is simply a “preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.”

According to a tweet by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the autopilot feature of the car may have mistaken the brake lights of the trailer against the bright sky to be a traffic road stop sign, which the system is programmed to ignore to “avoid false braking events.” Due to the malfunction of the autopilot system and driver error, the impact caused the Model S car to pass under the trailer.

Tesla’s own blog post hypothesised that it was the positioning of the car passing under the trailer that caused the fatality. “Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents,” the post reads.

The blog post further explains that the autopilot function is not designed to fully take control of the car and that when the function is enabled it specifically alerts drivers that they must keep their hands on the wheel at all times. They also clarify that the feature is still in its “public beta phase” and was designed to aid drivers, not take over the driving process entirely and that it was up to the driver to “maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.”

Tesla further expressed their sympathy for Brown and his family following his death, stating in their blog post, “The customer who died in this crash had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss. He was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.” CEO Elon Musk also expressed his condolences to the family on Twitter.

Lucas Nolan is a Journalism and Media student at Dublin Business School and a regular contributor to Breitbart Tech. He can be contacted via Twitter here: @LucasNolan_