Musk: ‘Autopilot was not active in Tesla crash without driver’
In a tweet on Monday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the Autopilot function wasn’t active when a Model S missed a turn, went off the road, and crashed into a tree in Houston (Texas) on Saturday.
In the car that burst into flames after the crash, the bodies of two men were found: one in de passenger seat, the owner on the back seat, and nobody at the steering wheel.
No white lane markers
“Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled, and this car did not purchase FSD,” Musk said, referring to the Full Self-Driving software package that Tesla started to offer five months ago to a small group of owners in a beta program.
Besides, for Autopilot to be active, the road has to be marked with white lines for the car’s camera to recognize. “Standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have,” Musk tweeted.
Showing to a friend
So what really happened when the car went off the road at high speed that night? According to the Texas police, they are “100% sure nobody was at the wheel when the car crashed”.
Besides, they say witnesses confirm that the car’s owner took a friend on a test drive to show the vehicle being able to drive itself. Something Tesla never claimed it could, without a driver to intervene at any time.
The standard Autopilot function actually is a form of Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) where the vehicle can control both the steering, acceleration and deceleration. Still, the driver has to control the car at all times (SAE Level 2 autonomous driving).
Monitoring torque on the wheel
The driver has to keep his hands on the steering wheel and his eyes on the road. Like in many modern cars with ADAS today, Tesla monitors the torque the driver is putting on the steering wheel with a sensor to check if the driver has his hands on it. If not, the driver gets a warning, and the system shuts down when no response.
Even with FSD, which promises to add autonomous city street navigation (Autosteer on City Streets) to highway control and enable point-to-point commuting without driver intervention, the driver is still required to be able to intervene at any time.
23 Autopilot-related investigations
There are 23 Tesla crashes under investigation by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration where Autopilot is said to be involved, but none so far with no driver in the driver’s seat. Texas police said it had subpoenaed the data files from Tesla, and also two federal investigation teams were sent to the crash scene.
The car, a 2019 Model S, burned out completely. Apparently, it took the firemen four hours and 113 000 liters of water to put out the fire as the damaged batteries kept on reigniting as long as there was energy in it. Tesla’s guidance suggests it’s better to let the fire burn out.