Elon Musk Says Autopilot Death Probably Wouldn’t Have Happened With Latest Updates

Eric Lieberman | Tech and Law Reporter

New updates to Tesla autopilot technology may prevent new accidents like the tragedy which occured in May, according to company executives.

“These things cannot be said with absolute certainty, but we believe it is very likely that, yes, it would have,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk told The New York Times. The new and improved version of the Autopilot, which has a refined radar, will be able to detect “a large metal object across the road.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) started investigating in July whether Tesla knew about the shortfalls of the technology leading up to the fatal May crash, and failed to notify shareholders.

Joshua Brown, the tech enthusiast who was testing the autopilot technology, collided with a tractor-trailer on a highway while reportedly driving 74 miles-per-hour. The main contributing factor blamed for his death was a “brightly lit sky” that reflected off of the nearby white truck. This likely obscured the autopilot technology’s ability to automatically brake and alert the driver.

Musk and the Tesla team suggest that while the autopilot technology is engaged, operators should always keep their “hands on the wheel” (which would seemingly negate many prospective benefits of the technology) and to “be prepared to take over at any time.”

Data show that both Brown and the autopilot system failed to employ the brakes.

The enhanced radar now is the primary system for surveying the road, while imaging capabilities will now augment the whole system.

In a conference call with reporters, the business magnate explained that the autopilot will also appropriately bypass any overpasses that do not pose a threat. For hazardous situations, “impact probability would be assessed as high and it would probably brake,” Musk said.

Musk believes the alterations are sufficient to prevent any skepticism from customers or government entities like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“They [NHTSA] appear pretty happy with these changes,” Musk said, according to The NYT. “The reaction was quite positive, but I don’t really want to speak for them.”

“I think it will be a dramatic improvement in the safety of vehicles,” Musk said, adding that accidents were still a possibility.

Musk took time to criticize a report conducted by Fortune that he said was deceiving and unfair.

“Indeed, if anyone bothered to do the math (obviously, you did not) they would realize that of the over 1M auto deaths per year worldwide, approximately half a million people would have been saved if the Tesla autopilot was universally available. Please, take 5 mins and do the bloody math before you write an article that misleads the public,” Musk said while lambasting Fortune.

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