Elon Musk: Tesla Upgraded Autopilot Could Have Prevented Crash Death

Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters in a conference call that it will be upgrading its autopilot program so that its Model S and Model X vehicles will do a better job at sensing obstacles and knowing when to brake.

According to CNET, the new Tesla self-driving system will now be more dependent on radar instead of cameras and will improve its ability to avoid rear-ending accidents. These new changes come as Tesla faces scrutiny over a May accident when an Ohio man was killed in a traffic accident when his Tesla vehicle in Florida failed to break in response to a passing truck.

[Photo By Max Whittaker/Getty Images]

The update will happen over the air over the next two weeks. By placing more emphasis on radar, Tesla plans for the radar to be able to detect dense objects just up the road such as other cars or large animals such as moose. Furthermore, Musk states that Tesla vehicles will be able to bounce radar signals off of other cars and pavements. This will allow its vehicles to have a wider sensory range and detect problems which a driver may not be able to see.

According to Musk, these improvements could reduce crashes by more than 50 percent from their current rates. But Musk emphasized that these safety updates are no substitute for a human driver. For example, Tesla’s radar “may not work for something like a small deer.”

[Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

The updates come as Tesla tries to answer questions relating to how the safety of its vehicles. Tesla’s newfound emphasis on radar over cameras may be a result of the aforementioned Florida accident. According to Tesla, the vehicle’s cameras failed to detect the white truck under the bright Florida sky and thus the car did not stop.

Musk claims that the new updates would have prevented the Florida accident. However, safety experts are concerned that Tesla’s Autopilot would encourage accidents because drivers will assume that the autopilot will drive for them and thus not pay attention to the road. For example, Consumer Reports has questioned whether Tesla’s marketing of Autopilot has “promoted a dangerously premature assumption that the Model S was capable of truly driving on its own.”

Are self-driving cars imminent?

While Musk and Tesla may caution drivers against thinking that their cars can drive safely all by themselves, there has been plenty of speculation about the development of autonomous cars. The hope is that autonomous cars will be able to drive more safely than human drivers and reduce the number of U.S. citizens killed by motor vehicle accidents ever year.

The road towards autonomous cars has been filled with both successes and setbacks. In addition to Tesla’s updates, Ford chief executive Mark Fields announced that he expects his company to sell “robotaxis” by 2021 and completely self-driving cars by 2025. On the other hand, both Google and Apple have announced layoffs and organization reshufflings as they struggle to build a viable vehicle.

Proponents of self-driving cars often claim that while some accidents will be inevitable, it would still be a major improvement over the huge amount of human error. Skeptics argue that automobile and tech companies have promised a great deal about the future of self-driving cars, but have failed to sufficiently test for safety or figure out the industry-wide safety standards which would be needed to make self-driving vehicles ubiquitous.

But while analysts debate over the viability of self-driving cars, Tesla is working on how to make them safer and more viable through software updates. But that will not stop safety and consumer experts from wondering whether the auto manufacturer is pushing for autonomous cars too hard and too quickly.

[Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

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