|From: Glenn Petersen||5/7/2022 2:46:54 PM|
|Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge|
From surveillance to search-and-rescue, consumer drones are having a huge impact on the country’s defense against Russia.
My 6, 2022
PHOTOGRAPH: PETRO ZADOROZHNYY/GETTY IMAGES
IN THE SNOWY streets of the north Ukrainian town of Trostyanets, the Russian missile system fires rockets every second. Tanks and military vehicles are parked on either side of the blasting artillery system, positioned among houses and near the town’s railway system. The weapon is not working alone, though. Hovering tens of meters above it and recording the assault is a Ukrainian drone. The drone isn’t a sophisticated military system, but a small, commercial machine that anyone can buy.
Since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine at the end of February, drones of all shapes and sizes have been used by both sides in the conflict. At one end of the scale are large military drones that can be used for aerial surveillance and to attack targets on the ground. In contrast, small commercial drones can be flown by people without any specific training and carried around in a suitcase-sized box. While both types of drones have been used in previous conflicts, the current scale of small, commercial drone use in Ukraine is unprecedented.
Drone videos shared and posted to social media depict the brutality of the war and reveal what has happened during battles. Drones have captured fighting in the destroyed Ukrainian city of Bucha, with lines of tanks moving around streets and troops moving alongside them. Commercial drones have helped journalists document the sheer scale of destruction in Kyiv and Mariupol, flying over burnt-out buildings that have been reduced to rubble.
Russian troops have been caught on camera allegedly shooting at citizens holding their hands in the air. Drone videos show Ukrainian troops shelling Russian positions, monitoring their movements in real time, and ambushing Russian troops. In one video, a drone spots Russian military vehicles leaving troops behind—they run after the transport and fall in the snow. In another, the drone hovers in the air and records a helicopter being shot down as it flies past.
“Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be,” says Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA. “It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops' movements or positionings, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs' actions, and it is of course search-and-rescue operations.” Iakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces are operating more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says these can link up with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite systems to upload footage. “In 2014, drones became the center of attention of intelligence units, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today,” he says. (Russia first began its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 with its annexation of Crimea.)
Both Ukraine and Russia have used military drones during the war—and Ukraine received donations of drones from the US. These military drones can often fly at high altitudes for long periods of time and fire upon targets, including ships. However, the use of smaller commercial drones in such high numbers stands out, researchers say. These drones, which can sometimes be flimsy and can’t fly far from their operators or stay in the air for long periods, have provided tactical advantages in some cases. (Commercial drones have been used in previous conflicts, for instance in Syria, but not as extensively as in Ukraine.)
A Ukranian serviceman stands next to a downed Russian drone in the area of a research institute, part of Ukraine's National Academy of Science, after a strike, in northwestern Kyiv, on March 22, 2022. / PHOTOGRAPH: ARIS MESSINIS/GETTY IMAGES
Civilian drone researcher Faine Greenwood has tracked and logged almost 350 incidents in which consumer drones have been used in Ukraine, with the video footage shared on Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and other social media. Many of the clips, which Greenwood has also mapped, are recorded by military forces, but others have been captured by civilians and journalists. The documented incidents are likely to be only a small fraction of the drone usage in Ukraine. Iakovenko says that in addition to collecting footage for possible war crimes, drones are being used to inspect buildings that have been hit and to help restore power supplies that have been damaged or knocked out.
“You get cheap airborne surveillance, or even strike capabilities, by using these,” says Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones in war. The drones allow troops on the ground to immediately surveil forces around them, retarget weapons, and take action that could stop enemy advances or save lives. “You have individuals or small militia groups that all of a sudden have their own airborne surveillance capability—that’s something you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. There certainly have been tactical advances and tactical victories because of that.”
Beyond providing direct surveillance that can contribute to intelligence, the videos being captured by consumer drones could contribute to accountability after the war ends. “This is one of the first cases we have had where drones have collected so much really applicable information for war crimes investigations against civilians,” Greenwood says. Although there are questions about what kinds of footage will be admissible in trials, Greenwood and others are backing up and saving video from drones in Ukraine.
Chief among the commercial drones being used in Ukraine are those from Chinese firm DJI, particularly its Mavic line of devices. Its consumer drones are considered to be some of the easiest to purchase and fly. Both Ukrainian and Russian forces have been seen using the drones, Greenwood says. Early in the war, Ukrainian authorities accused DJI of allowing Russian forces to use its drone detection system to target troops, although the company strongly denies this and no strong evidence has been presented.
At the end of April, DJI announced it was temporarily suspending sales in both Russia and Ukraine. The company has consistently said it doesn’t market its products for military use, and it has refused to enable modifications that would allow such use. “DJI has taken this action not to make a statement about any country, but to make a statement about our principles,” DJI spokesperson Adam Lisberg says. “DJI abhors any use of our drones to cause harm, and we are temporarily suspending sales in these countries in order to help ensure no one uses our drones in combat.”
Despite DJI’s opposition to military uses of its products, the drones have been weaponized during the war. “I don't think people have expected commercial DJI drones to be used at such scale,” says Samuel Bendett, an advisor with nonprofit research organization CNA who focuses on Russia and unmanned and autonomous military systems. “This raises the question of whether drone proliferation can be stopped altogether in any conflict.” Charities, companies, and individuals have donated consumer drones from around the world to Ukrainian forces. (Greenwood says they have seen claims that the Russian military is being supplied with donated drones, too. They also point out Telegram messages that claim to show pro-Russian fighters discussing the use of commercial drones).
While the use of consumer drones in conflicts is not new, the machines are not designed for a hostile environment. “The downside of these drones is that they're not military-grade,” Bendett says, adding they can be targeted by anti-drone technology designed to take them out of the sky. All the drone specialists we spoke to for this article say they haven’t seen as many incidents of drones being shot out of the sky as they would have expected—particularly by Russian forces.
“Flying a simple commercial drone in conflict puts the operators in danger as well,” Bendett says. Civilians, journalists, and humanitarian workers using drones in Ukraine are being put at greater risk when they fly consumer drones, Greenwood adds. “The big problem with consumer drones and conflict zones, which humanitarian aid workers are very conscious of, is that you can't tell them apart; they look exactly the same.” A consumer drone being flown by a civilian appears no different from the same drone being flown by a soldier.
This means there are questions about what will happen under humanitarian laws if people flying drones are targeted, Greenwood says. “What happens if an aid worker is flying a drone and people assume it's a drone, it must be being flown by a combatant, and therefore this is a valid target and I'm going to kill it?”
Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge | WIRED
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|From: Julius Wong||5/7/2022 5:29:02 PM|
|See Inside the World’s First Airport for Flying Cars|
We’ve taken a giant step closer to a Jetsons-like future with the opening of Urban-Air Port’s Air-One, touted as the world’s first flying-taxi hub. Opened last week in Coventry, England, the station is being positioned as a pioneer for more than 200 electric vertical takeoff and landing ports that are planned to be built around the globe. Zero-emission drones will ferry passengers and transport cargo as part of what the company calls “the coming green air transportation revolution.”
Don’t grab your suitcase just yet, though. Air-One is currently more of a model than a working vertiport. It’s intended to demonstrate the feasibility of a global network of hubs that could be constructed on land, placed on water, or even sit atop a skyscraper.
ContentThis content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.
That versatility means that the vertiports could reach areas current air travel cannot, and they would also have a smaller environmental footprint with less congestion and air pollution. Vertiports would be positioned not just for passenger travel and package delivery, but also for emergency management and security and defense operations.
Various zones within the airport will house different equipment, with one area specifically dedicated to passengers for café and retail access.
Photo: Urban-Air Port
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|From: Sam||5/14/2022 11:16:10 PM|
|Interesting article on Tesla, where it's at. The comments are interesting too--a good selection of views.|
Tesla: How Long Will The Market Tolerate Its Struggles?
May 13, 2022 6:21 PM ET
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|From: Glenn Petersen||5/16/2022 4:43:46 AM|
|Uber Eats pilots autonomous delivery with Serve Robotics, Motional|
Rebecca Bellan @rebeccabellan
6:39 PM CDT•May 15, 2022
Image Credits: Motional
Uber Eats is launching two autonomous delivery pilots in Los Angeles on Monday with Serve Robotics, a robotic sidewalk delivery startup, and Motional, an autonomous vehicle technology company.
The new programs are a part of a range of new products Uber is launching across its ride-hail and delivery platforms, which are being announced on Monday at the company’s Global Product Event.
The Motional partnership was originally announced in December and marks the first time Uber is partnering with an AV fleet provider, as well as the first time Motional is trying its hand at autonomous delivery. Until this point, Motional has focused on robotaxis, securing partnerships with companies like Lyft and Via.
Serve Robotics is actually an Uber spinout, so seeing the two partner in the delivery space isn’t surprising. But it’s notable that Uber isn’t working with Aurora on this, given the two companies’ partnership in the freight space, their shared history, and the fact that Uber is a major investor in Aurora. Aurora acquired Uber ATG, Uber’s self-driving arm, in 2020, and under the terms of the deal, Uber invested $400 million in the company, giving it a 26% stake.
Uber told TechCrunch the company is looking at partnering with more than one player in the space, and that the public might start to see more partnerships in the future.
Both of the pilots are starting out small and delivering food from only a few merchants, including, an organic cafe and juicery called Kreation. Serve’s program will focus on shorter trips in West Hollywood. Motional’s will handle longer distance deliveries in Santa Monica, according to an Uber spokesperson.
“We’ll be able to learn from both of those pilots what customers actually want, what merchants actually want and what makes sense for delivery as we start to integrate our platform with AV companies,” said the spokesperson. “The hope is that they’re successful and that we learn over the coming months, and then figure out how to scale.”
Serve Robotics is partnering with Uber Eats on an autonomous delivery pilot in Los Angeles.
Customers will be charged for deliveries with both Serve and Motional, including the cost of food, according to Uber. It’s not entirely clear how Uber and Motional will swing that, though. In California, to be able to charge a fee for autonomous delivery, Motional would need to be granted a deployment permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. So far, it only has a permit to test with a safety driver on board.
In answer to this, Uber said only that “Motional and Uber expect that certain delivery fees which might normally be applicable may not be charged during this initial phase.”
Motional clarified further, saying during the pilot, there will not be fees specific to the delivery orchestrated by the Motional vehicle.
There don’t appear to be any laws restricting companies from charging for deliveries made by sidewalk robots, so Serve is in the clear. Uber said that if a customer decides to tip a Serve robot, they’ll be reimbursed.
Uber Eats customers will be given a passcode to unlock an autonomous vehicle and receive their food delivery.
In addition, per the rules of Motional’s testing permit with the California DMV, a human safety operator will be on board the vehicle during deliveries. This operator will also drive the delivery vehicle manually when near customers’ drop-off locations, as needed, according to an Uber spokesperson.
“If there is a drop-off point that’s close by, but not within Motional’s current autonomous service area, the vehicle will be operated manually in order to deliver the order to the customer’s house, rather than asking them to walk to meet the AV,” a Motional spokesperson told TechCrunch. “This is done to ensure a convenient and seamless experience for customers, and to maximize the number of opportunities to provide a touchless delivery experience to customers. As Motional’s delivery autonomous service area expands, more trips will be completely fully autonomously.”
Serve’s robots are capable of operating under Level 4 autonomy in some scenarios, the company has said. During the Uber pilot, the robots will be monitored by a remote operator who will take over in certain use cases, like crossing the street, Uber said.
Customers residing within one of the two geofenced test zones will see an option at checkout to have their food delivered by an autonomous vehicle. If they opt in, the customer can track the food like they normally would, and when it arrives, they will get a notification to meet the AV outside. Customers will get a passcode on their phone that will allow them to unlock the vehicle and grab the food, whether the meal is in one of Serve’s cooler-like robots or the backseat of one of Motional’s cars.
This article has been updated with statements from Motional.
Uber Eats pilots autonomous delivery with Serve Robotics, Motional | TechCrunch
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|From: Glenn Petersen||5/17/2022 1:35:37 PM|
|Ford-backed robotaxi startup Argo AI is ditching its human safety drivers in Miami and Austin|
PUBLISHED TUE, MAY 17 202211:33 AM EDT
John Rosevear @JOHN__ROSEVEAR
--,Robotaxi startup Argo AI said Tuesday it has begun operating its autonomous test vehicles without human safety drivers in Miami and Austin.
-- For now, the driverless vehicles will shuttle Argo AI employees, not paying passengers.
Argo AI begins driverless operations in Miami and Austin. / Courtesy: Argo AI
Robotaxi startup Argo AI said Tuesday it has begun operating its autonomous test vehicles without human safety drivers in two U.S. cities — Miami and Austin — a major milestone for the Ford- and Volkswagen-backed company.
For now, those driverless vehicles won’t be carrying paying customers. But they will be operating in daylight, during business hours, in dense urban neighborhoods, shuttling Argo AI employees who can summon the vehicles via a test app.
CEO Bryan Salesky said that the company has been working to develop self-driving vehicles that can operate safely in cities since its founding in 2016.
“From day one, we set out to tackle the hardest miles to drive — in multiple cities — because that’s where the density of customer demand is, and where our autonomy platform is developing the intelligence required to scale it into a sustainable business,” Salesky said.
Argo has been testing its self-driving technology on streets in eight cities in the U.S. and Europe, using heavily modified Ford and Volkswagen vehicles with, until now, human safety drivers on board.
Most of Argo’s robotaxis still carry only Argo AI employees. But since December, some of the company’s vehicles have been available to passengers in Miami Beach via Lyft’s ridesharing network.
Lyft owns about a 2.5% stake in Argo AI. The vehicles available via Lyft will continue to have human safety drivers for the time being, the company said.
Argo AI is one of several companies working to deploy robotaxis at scale in cities in the U.S. and elsewhere – none have yet reached the point of carrying paying passengers around the clock, in large volume, in busy urban neighborhoods.
General Motors-backed Cruise, a key Argo AI rival, has begun offering driverless taxi services to the public in San Francisco, but the service is currently limited to late-night hours and the company isn’t yet charging for the rides. Waymo, the Alphabet subsidiary that grew out of the pioneering Google Self-Driving Car project, is operating driverless taxis with passengers in and around Phoenix, Arizona.
Argo AI robotaxis ditch human safety drivers in Miami and Austin (cnbc.com)
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|From: Glenn Petersen||5/17/2022 2:36:33 PM|
| Maple Seeds Inspire Efficient Spinning Microdrone |
A 50-gram samara drone can self-stabilize and hover for over 24 minutes
13 MAY 2022
2 MIN READ
The relatively simple and now quite pervasive quadrotor design for drones emphasizes performance and manufacturability, which is fine, but there are some trade-offs—namely, endurance. Four motors with rapidly spinning tiny blades suck up battery power, and while consumer drones have mitigated this somewhat by hauling around ever-larger batteries, the fundamental problem is one of efficiency in flight.
In a paper published this week in Science Robotics, researchers from the City University of Hong Kong have come up with a drone inspired by maple seeds that weighs less than 50 grams but can hold a stable hover for over 24 minutes.
Maple seed pods, also called samaras, are those things you see whirling down from maple trees in the fall, helicopter style. The seed pods are optimized for maximum air time through efficient rotating flight, thanks to an evolutionary design process that rewards the distance traveled from the parent tree, resulting in a relatively large wing with a high ratio of wing to payload.
Samara drones (or monocopters, more generally) have been around for quite a while. They make excellent passive spinny gliders when dropped in midair, and they can also achieve powered flight with the addition of a propulsion system on the tip of the wing. This particular design is symmetrical, using two sizable wings, each with a tip propeller. The electronics, battery, and payload are in the center, and flight consists of the entire vehicle spinning at about 200 rpm:
The bicopter is inherently stable, with the wings acting as aerodynamic dampers that result in passive-attitude stabilization, something that even humans tend to struggle with. With a small battery, the drone weighs just 35 grams with a wingspan of about 60 centimeters. The key to the efficiency is that unlike most propellerized drones, the propellers aren’t being used for lift—they’re being used to spin the wings, and that’s where the lift comes from. Full 3D control is achieved by carefully pulsing the propellers at specific points in the rotation of the vehicle to translate in any direction. With a 650-milliampere-hour battery (contributing to a total vehicle mass of 42.5 g), the drone is able to hover in place for 24.5 minutes. The ratio of mass to power consumption that this represents is about twice as good as other small multirotor drones.
You may be wondering just how fundamentally useful a platform like this is if it’s constantly spinning. Some sensors simply don’t care about spinning, while other sensors have to spin themselves if they’re not already spinning, so it’s easy to see how this spinning effect could actually be a benefit for, say, lidar. Cameras are a bit more complicated, but by syncing the camera frame rate to the spin rate of the drone, the researchers were able to use a 22-g camera payload to capture four 3.5 fps videos simultaneously, recording video of every direction at once.
Despite the advantages of these samara-inspired designs, we haven’t seen them make much progress out of research contexts, which is a real shame. The added complication seems to be enough that at least for most consumer and research applications, it’s just easier to build traditional quadrotors. Near-term applications might be situations in which you need lightweight, relatively long-duration, functional-aerial-mapping, or surveillance systems.
“A bioinspired revolving-wing drone with passive attitude stability and efficient hovering flight,” by Songnan Bai, Qingning He, and Pakpong Chirarattananon from the City University of Hong Kong, is published in Science Robotics.
Maple Seeds Inspire Efficient Spinning Microdrone - IEEE Spectrum
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|From: Julius Wong||5/18/2022 7:07:44 AM|
|Drones Are Turning Into Personal Flying Machines|
Ever since he was a kid in Sweden, Peter Ternström wanted to make a sci-fi-style flying machine. In 1983 he saw Return of the Jedi five times and dreamed of zooming through the forest of Endor on a levitating speeder. But as a smart young nerd he quickly realized a hovering vehicle wasn’t possible.
“There was no propulsion system that worked,” he recalls with a sigh. Sure, people had been trying to make personal flying devices for decades—most notably jetpacks. But jetpack physics was a nightmare. Strapping an explosive tank of fuel to your body and trying not to burn your legs off? Not really a scalable solution to personal mobility.
So Ternström shelved his youthful dream and went on to become a dotcom millionaire by building an online learning platform and the Swedish version of Mailchimp. Flying cars, not gonna happen.
Except that technology evolves in a funny way. While Ternström was doing those dotcom firms, a different flying technology was emerging, one that didn’t have the problems of jetpacks: drones.
When they first went mainstream in the ’00s, drones were mere toys, wobbly and difficult to fly, with batteries that died in minutes. But as demand from hobbyists and enthusiasts grew, so did the quality of the parts. Motors got better, and batteries became longer-lasting. Tilt sensors became cheap and high quality, and open-source coders wrote software that made drones self-stabilizing and thus easy to fly with zero training.
In 2012, Ternström met up with an old friend who’d been building drones to carry cameras for Hollywood movie production. Ternström joined him to work on some of the shoots, and as he watched the drones fly around, Ternström started thinking: Huh, why not just make a really big drone, strap a seat on it, and carry a human?
So he and his partner did. They formed Jetson, a company that is now selling its first model of an honest-to-goodness, hovering personal aircraft: the Jetson ONE, a $92,000 contraption made of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, eight drone propellers, and scores of batteries. In videos, Ternström zooms along the Italian countryside about six feet aboveground, looking eerily like that Endor speeder he’d once dreamed of.
“Flying it is a profoundly ecstatic experience,” he tells me. “All your bird DNA from from millions of years ago kicks in and goes, ‘Whoa, wait a second, I've done this before!’” His company has 320 pre-orders, he adds, which he aims to begin delivering by the end of 2023. The buyers are mostly “high-profile people from California. I’m not going to say ’Mark Zuckerberg,’ but, you know, around that circle.”
Courtesy of Jetson
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Ternström is one of the first to have a drone-style flying machine for sale, but he’s hardly alone. Dozens of firms worldwide are now making “ electrical vertical takeoff and landing” (eVTOL) vehicles. Their goal is to introduce vehicles and gradually improve them such that, in 10 years, you could zip from downtown to the airport in one—since unlike planes they need no runway, and are so heavily software-guided that pilots would need little skill. (A few of these firms aim to have their crafts remotely piloted, or to fly autonomously.) Some models shift the propellers sideways once in flight, so they cruise airplane-style.
For eons, sci-fi illustrations depicted people zipping around cities in little flying vehicles. Now those Golden Age fliers might finally be arriving—and “they’re just big drones,” says Chris Anderson, a longtime drone pioneer and COO of eVTOL firm Kittyhawk (and WIRED’s former editor in chief).
Courtesy of Kittyhawk
Consider this a lesson in innovation: Big breakthroughs don’t always come from where you’d expect.
We often think the biggest innovations spring from brilliant people gathered in a lab or corporation—designers at Apple crafting the smartphone, the wonks at OpenAI coding GPT-3, the Tesla engineers building a truly elegant electric car. But just as often, maybe more often, innovation is the result of hobbyist weirdos tinkering on stuff that seems silly or toylike. It’s precisely because those environments are low-stakes that hackers and enthusiasts can gradually improve the core technologies, until suddenly they’re ready to do wildly more ambitious things.
See missing graphics at
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|From: Glenn Petersen||5/19/2022 7:32:41 AM|
|Tesla Autopilot’s Role in Deadly Vehicle Crash Is Probed by Safety Regulators|
Wreck under investigation involves a Tesla Model S and left three people dead, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said
By Ryan Felton
Wall Street Journal
May 18, 2022 6:32 pm ET
U.S. auto-safety regulators have opened a special crash investigation into a fatal wreck involving a Tesla Inc. vehicle that has left three people dead.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration disclosed the probe Wednesday, identifying the vehicle as a 2022 Tesla Model S. It added the incident to a list of auto crashes it is investigating that are potentially linked to semiautonomous driving features.
The regulatory agency has disclosed it is investigating more than 30 incidents in which a Tesla vehicle suspected to be using Autopilot was involved in a serious crash. Some of the other Tesla-vehicle crashes on the list also resulted in fatalities, NHTSA’s records show.
Tesla didn’t immediately return a request for comment. The electric-vehicle maker has long said that driving with Autopilot engaged is safer than doing so without it.
A NHTSA spokesperson Wednesday declined to comment further on the agency’s investigation or confirm details of the incident that initiated the latest probe.
Earlier this month, police in Newport Beach, Calif., responded to a fatal crash involving a 2022 Tesla Model S that struck a curb and rammed into construction equipment located on a road, a police-department spokeswoman said.
Officers arrived and discovered three deceased passengers in the vehicle, the spokeswoman said. Three construction workers suffered minor non-life-threatening injuries and were treated at a nearby hospital, she added. The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the Autopilot was engaged.
In recent years, auto makers have rolled out a range of new automated-driving features marketed to drivers as a way to ease the burden of operating a vehicle, particularly for long periods.
Many of these so-called advanced driver assistance systems still require the driver to remain engaged and ready to take over when needed, but they aren’t tightly regulated in the U.S. and vary widely depending on the manufacturer.
This newest NHTSA probe is the latest in the agency’s effort to examine Tesla’s Autopilot, a feature the EV maker says is designed to help drivers with tasks such as steering and keeping a safe distance from other vehicles on the road. Tesla instructs drivers using the system to pay attention to the road and to keep their hands on the wheel.
Last fall, the agency said it was opening a separate investigation into the system itself, citing nearly a dozen crashes involving Tesla vehicles that crashed into first responder vehicles.
Appeared in the May 19, 2022, print edition as 'Deadly Tesla Crash Brings Federal Inquiry'.
Tesla Autopilot’s Role in Deadly Vehicle Crash Is Probed by Safety Regulators - WSJ
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