|Car companies' vision of a gradual transition to self-driving cars has a big problem |
Updated by Timothy B. Lee firstname.lastname@example.org Jul 5, 2017, 9:30am EDT
An important moment in the self-diving car debate came on May 7, 2016, when Joshua Brown lost his life after his Tesla vehicle crashed into a semi-truck trailer. Brown had engaged Tesla’s Autopilot feature, and the software didn’t detect the white side of the trailer against the daytime sky. The car slammed into the truck at full speed — 74 miles per hour — shearing off the top of the car and killing Brown.
The accident — characterized by many as the first of self-driving car accident — caught the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board, which released hundreds of pages of new details about the incident last month.
But the industry that’s trying to make self-driving a reality takes exception with this characterization. Tesla argued that autopilot is not a self-driving technology, but more like an advanced form of cruise control. Drivers need to keep hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road at all times when Autopilot is engaged, the company says. Computer logs released by the NTSB last month show that Brown’s car warned him seven times to keep his hands on the wheel. Each time, Brown put his hands on the wheel for a few seconds — long enough to make the warnings go away — before taking them off again.
In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sided with Tesla in the case, concluding that the Autopilot system wasn’t defective. “Not all systems can do all things,” said agency spokesman Bryan Thomas. “There are driving scenarios that automatic emergency braking systems are not designed to address.”
Still, Brown’s death illustrates one of the biggest challenges carmakers will face as they work to bring self-driving cars to market. Most car companies envision a gradual path to self-driving capabilities, selling cars with increasingly sophisticated driver-assistance features over several years before ultimately introducing fully self-driving cars with no pedals or steering wheel.
continues at vox.com