It seems like only yesterday that autonomous cars were just the stuff of science fiction. Fast forward to today, and Tesla has made this not just a reality, but one that can be accessed by just about anyone. Tesla is currently the only company that mass-produces semi-autonomous electric cars, which gives them a huge client base the world over. The Tesla Model 3 alone has sold over half a million units as of early 2020.
But turning thought into reality doesn’t mean the reality is flawless. Despite these progressions in technology, there exist autopilot errors with these futuristic automobiles that have kept car manufacturers from venturing into the world of autonomous cars.
Tesla has experienced plenty of these errors, and some have become a huge hit on Tesla’s massive technological advances.
Common Errors Reported in Autopilot
Tesla initially announced its autopilot system in 2013. Their main focus was on reducing accidents caused by driver negligence, human error, or pure physical exhaustion brought on by various factors. Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated that since autopilot was already working in airplanes, then it could very well be useful in cars. This led to the creation of Tesla’s first autonomous drive hardware (HW1) in association with Israeli based company, Mobilege. This hardware consisted of high definition cameras, sensors, and an integrated chip that only required the right software to start a driverless car revolution.
Tesla finally released the Tesla 7.0 operating system for road-legal Tesla car models in 2014. The software allowed for semi-autonomous driving (staying on the fast lane and switching lanes according to the GPS) and self-parking. However, users of the feature were attempting too many risky maneuvers, which the software allowed. Tesla developed software update 7.1, which added some restrictions to the autopilot feature to control drivers.
Slow Reaction Time
On January 20, 2016, a Tesla Model S in Handan, China, crashed into a truck while reportedly being on autopilot. The autopilot feature, according to the dashboard camera, did not respond in time to the car ahead that was switching lanes to avoid a stationary truck. The Tesla sped on and smashed right into the back of the truck.
First Fatal Accident on Autopilot
Shortly after this incident in China, another accident was reported on May 16, 2016. It was the first of its kind reported in Williston, Florida. The Tesla car, which was on autopilot, was driving at 74mph and rammed into a tractor-trailer that made a sudden left turn. Unfortunately, the driver of the Tesla died on the spot.
This was Tesla’s first known fatal accident after 130 million miles recorded by Tesla cars driving on autopilot. According to Tesla, there’s one death in every 94 million miles of normal driving, a fact that they claim proves that their autopilot system is still much safer than manual driving.
In Tesla’s defense, the car manufacturer urges drivers to be alert even when on autopilot because their system is not completely error-free. The accident above seemed to be a case of negligence on the Tesla driver’s part as the tractor driver involved claimed to have heard a Harry Potter movie playing in the crashed Tesla car. The Tesla Model S’s touch screen is incapable of playing a movie, proving that the driver was watching it on another device. A wrecked laptop was recovered from the crashed car by investigators.
On August 31, 2016, Tesla released Tesla autopilot 8.0, which supported low light visibility. The software update was closely followed by an autopilot hardware update (HW2) in October 2016. By November 2016, Tesla Models around the world traveled over 300 million miles on autopilot. This data was used to create another software update that enabled the first traffic-aware autopilot system in February 2017.
Poor Stationary Object & Road Sign Recognition
By 2018, Tesla Models now had a semi-autonomous autopilot mode that could read white lines on the road and recognize obstacles and traffic. Some users have noted that the software had a slight problem. It could not detect stationary vehicles around a bend or a winding road. More surprisingly, the system could not recognize road signs and road surface markings that were not white.
A Tesla Model X car crashed into a wall in Mountain View, California, on March 23, 2018. Detectives attributed this to the autopilot feature being unable to detect the bend fast enough. In another incident, a Tesla Model S car crashed while on autopilot in April 2018 on a road that had yellow markings as opposed to white ones.
Although we have yet to realize fully-autonomous cars, we are getting closer to them every day. However, like Tesla CEO Elon Musk reiterates, the semi-autonomous features on Teslas are just an additional research tool and should not be misused. By following his advice, these common autopilot errors will significantly decrease since most autopilot accidents are due to driver negligence. It is important to stay alert even while on autopilot.