Elon Musk Says Autopilot Upgrade Would Have Prevented Model S Fatal Crash

Tesla Model S driving with Autopilot 1 photo
Photo: Screenshot from video
Tesla has announced an update to its Autopilot system, which promises a new level of safety from the system.
In spite of the new update, which is purely software, Tesla cars will not get fully autonomous driving abilities, but more capabilities for the Autopilot system.

In other words, Tesla models will not be capable of full autonomy while driving with the feature activated, but their level of safety will be increased through greater use of built-in radar sensors.

The changes applied to the system were being considered since last year, Elon Musk notes, but they were not introduced because of fears of “false positives.” The latter term refers to the risk of the car believing that there is an obstacle ahead, and then making the system apply the brakes without reason.

Unfortunately, a false negative of the previous version of the technology, along with a potentially distracted driver led to the first fatal accident in a Tesla Model S that was driving with Autopilot activated. Tesla hopes to eliminate “false negatives” with a 3D map of the road that is made with each vehicle that passes the same place at a given time.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, says that he believes that the accident that took the life of Joshua Brown could have been avoided if the update had been applied this year.

As Automotive News notes, Musk said that it was “very likely” for the changes brought to the system to prevent the fatal accident that took place on May 7, 2016, when the camera system of a Model S confused a trailer for a traffic sign in broad daylight.

Other changes applied to Autopilot have reduced the possibility of drivers being distracted, as they will be prompted to keep at least one hand on the wheel when the system is active.

While the obligation existed, the cars could keep driving regardless, but the changes applied will prevent that if drivers ignore warnings from the vehicle while driving at speeds above 72 km/h (45 mph).

If one user ignores three warnings of this kind within the hour, the Auto-steer feature will be deactivated until the vehicle is parked. The maximum period of not keeping hands on the wheel is a minute at the speed mentioned above when the road ahead is clear.

Musk reminded everyone that “perfect safety is an impossible goal,” and that their work focuses on improving the “probability of safety.” In other words, they want to make this kind of event less likely from a statistical point of view, but it will nevertheless be possible in theory.

The CEO of Tesla has a reasonable view on automotive safety, as he considers that it will be impossible to ensure zero fatalities or zero injuries in automobiles, even with the most advanced systems imaginable.
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About the author: Sebastian Toma
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Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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