Weekly Brief: Two Tesla Autopilot incidents raise driverless concerns

A couple more Tesla Autopilot incidents raises fresh questions about the safety of semi-autonomous tech. Andrew Tolve reports.
Tesla’s highly touted driver assistance system, Autopilot, picked up two more black eyes last week in frightening fashion. In the first a Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode ploughed into a parked fire truck on a freeway in Southern California. The Model S was travelling at 65mph at the time but no one was hurt. The driver blamed it all “on Autopilot.” Fast forward a few days and several hundred miles north to San Francisco, where the highway patrol discovered a Tesla Model S stopped in the middle of traffic on the Bay Bridge. The driver inside was passed out on the steering wheel with twice the legal blood alcohol level. He told the cops not to worry, his Tesla had been set on Autopilot. He was arrested and his car towed. “No, it didn’t drive itself to the tow yard,” quipped the California Highway Patrol on Twitter.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and The National Transportation Safety Board both announced that they plan to investigate the fire truck crash. Tesla reminded its drivers that Autopilot depends on human drivers; it’s not a fully self-driving system. The distinction, however, seems to be getting lost in transit from the driver manual to the driver’s head. It remains to be seen how many of these crashes the public can stomach before it turns to alarm. It also remains to be seen if troubles with semi-autonomous technologies influence regulations and deployment of fully self-driving systems, which are due out in mass numbers from the likes of Google and General Motors next year. See Robots will make fatal mistakes, Continental concedes.

In other news, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi launched a billion-dollar corporate venture capital fund focused on new mobility. In its first year, the Alliance Ventures fund will invest up to $200M (£141M) in start-ups and technologies addressing vehicle electrification, autonomous systems, connectivity and artificial intelligence. Renault (40%), Nissan (40%) and Mitsubishi (20%) will jointly fund the entity.

Tango Networks introduced a new system that allows fleet operators to control how much, or little, their drivers can use phones for voice, text and data communications while behind the wheel. Called Responsible Driver System (RDS), the technology is embedded in the actual wireless network, rather than in the phone, making it impossible for drivers to find work-arounds. Companies can tailor their programs based on vehicle speed, time of day, locations, and other parameters.

The State of Washington terminated the grace period on its E-DUI (Driving Under the Influence of Electronics) Act. The new law stipulates that if a cop catches you driving in the state of Washington with a smartphone in hand, you’ll get slapped with an E-DUI and a $136 fine. Do it twice and you’ll have to pay $234. All info on cell phone distraction will be forwarded to insurance agencies. It will be interesting to see if other states fall in line.

AI is everywhere these days, including in auto tyres. Goodyear unveiled a new AI technology that predicts when tyres need service or replacement to improve overall tyre management and maximise uptime across a fleet. Goodyear will pilot the technology with STRATIM, a San Francisco-based start-up whose technology platform tracks, monitors and oversees fleet maintenance for more than 50 ride sharing and car sharing services in North America.

Finally, Ohio wants to be a hub for self-driving innovation and it has created a new entity called DriveOne Ohio to make it happen. Housed within the Ohio Department of Transportation, DriveOne Ohio is a one-stop shop for researchers, developers and manufacturers to collaborate on autonomous and connected vehicle initiatives in Ohio. The goal is to provide a state-wide, single point of entry for companies and innovators to test and build smart mobility technologies collaboratively.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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