Tag Archives: Autonomous Automobiles

Tesla Auto-Pilot Failure…?

Yesterday a story regarding a possible Tesla Autopilot failure was making the rounds. Here’s one article about it, written by Jason Torchinsky and presented on jalopnik.com:

Tesla Model 3 drives straight into overturned truck in what seems to be Autopilot failure

Here is a news report about the accident, presented on Taiwan’s news (the accident occurred there).

Mr. Torchinsky, in the article linked to above, makes the following statement:

Tesla’s Autopilot system primarily uses cameras for its Autopilot system, and previous wrecks have suggested that situations like this, a light-colored large immobile object on the road on a bright day can be hard for the system to distinguish.

This is very much true and reminds me of a similar incident which happened to a Tesla fanatic whose car, on Autopilot, plowed into a truck towing a trailer. The accident occurred in 2019 and the driver was killed.

Tesla Model 3: Autopilot engaged during fatal crash

If you’ve read my ramblings here, you should know that I own a Tesla Model 3. You should also know that I absolutely love the car to death and, yes, I have used the Autopilot quite a bit, especially when on long highway trips.

I find the Autopilot a great driving aid.

Yet I never let my guard down and am always focused on what’s going on in front of me when using the device.

There are those who criticize Elon Musk and Tesla because they’ve been playing fast and loose with the whole “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” terminology.

The two are very different things and you need to understand what each is.

Full Self-Driving is a theoretical idea so far and not a reality. That you can get into your car, in your driveway, and instruct it to take you to, say, your work. The car does everything from that point on, backing your car out of your driveway, moving from street to street and stopping at traffic lights/stop signs, moving from regular streets to highways then back to regular streets and dropping you off at your destination.

No, that doesn’t exist yet, though Tesla and several other companies are working hard to make it.

Autopilot, on the other hand, is like an advanced version of Cruise Control and it does exist in Tesla vehicles.

In Autopilot, the car “sees” what is in front and around it and adjusts the driving for you, slowing down when cars are stopped before you and speeding up to the velocity you have specified for it to go at a maximum. However, it doesn’t take you to locations and, once off a highway, it will disengage.

I tend to use Autopilot only in situations where the car is driving mostly “straight”. Yes, Autopilot can take curves -and has done so- but in city driving Autopilot will not take you from your home all the way to your job. In the version I have (there have been advances since then and I’m still waiting to get my updates central processor) it does not see traffic lights or stop signs.

Autopilot is an aide to be used for mostly straight forward driving and nothing more.

In the case of the accident presented above and the fatal accident from 2019, both cases highlight a problem that Tesla’s Autopilot has and which the company needs to address: The Autopilot system seems to sometimes get confused when a stationary large object, especially if it is white, is directly in front of your car and on a straightaway.

The accident in Taiwan and the fatal accident from 2019 had the same general elements: A Model 3 was indeed moving on a straight highway/road and in front of it appeared a large white object, be it a trailer or overturned truck. In both cases, the Autopilot feature did not detect the fact that they were there.

Having said that…

It appears these two accidents are the only ones thus far which have happened under these circumstances. The loss of life in the earlier accident is a tragedy but some 90 people die in automotive accidents every day.

The fact that we have 2 accidents -one non-fatal- involving this Autopilot technology in a span of some 2 years (2019 and 2020, thus far) indicates this is a situation that occurs incredibly infrequently.

Still, Tesla should get on top of this situation, infrequent as it may be.

Autonomous automobiles…

One of my latest fascinations is the self-driving, or autonomous, car.  I’ve read up on Google’s research into such a device and noted how Tesla cars will soon have automatic driving features as well.  Uber, for their part, is working very hard on creating an automated vehicle, and Zack Kanter offers the following incredibly fascinating essay on what he feels might happen when -and he believes this will occur quite soon- autonomous vehicles become the norm:


Central to his essay is the following paragraph:

Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced.  They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

I couldn’t agree more with his assessment, both in terms of the good and the bad of a society filled with autonomously driven vehicles.

Think about it for a second: We have to spend several thousand dollars each year on our cars, from buying/leasing them to buying gasoline (electric cars, while far more fuel efficient, nonetheless will cost to recharge) to paying for insurance.

Now imagine this: A fleet of autonomous cars on the road that you can “call up”, not unlike a taxi, using your smart phone.  These vehicles, completely computerized, will give you a time of arrival to pick you up, an estimated time of arrival at your destination (you will be able to set your destination before they show up), will come to pick you up, take you to your destination, then immediately head out to pick up their next ride.

This fleet of cars will be owned by some company.  Perhaps it will be Google or Uber or whichever company(ies) service them.  When they get low on fuel or their sensors detect they need service, they return to wherever they are warehoused, are refueled and serviced, and sent on their way again, continuing their work until they again need to be charged or serviced.

Assuming there is a very large fleet of such automobiles, actually owning your own car becomes unnecessary to your daily life.

Think about it: You go to work/school and drive back home during the weekdays.  On many of those days once you get home you don’t need to go out again.  How convenient is it to simply call in a car to pick you up in the morning, let it drive you to school or work while you sit back and either read the paper or do your work, and then, when your work/schoolday is done, you call another vehicle to come pick you up and, viola, you repeat the process in reverse?

If you need to go shopping at your local grocer/mall, you can do the same, get picked up and taken to your local grocery store or mall, you buy/do what you need, and as you’re heading out the door, you call a car and it takes you back home with your shopping.

But what if you want to travel very far?  Say you live in New York and want to drive down the coast and go to DisneyWorld?  There could be larger automated vehicles designed for this longer trip.  Or, conversely, you could simply rent a car for that period of time.  Car Rental agencies might have to become services designed for longer transport rather than people who stay within a city.

Regardless, renting a car or using an automated service would be far cheaper than having and maintaining your own car.

The downside of all this, as pointed out above, is the fact that there are many jobs out there involving people who drive others to their destination and these jobs will be crushed.  The taxi industry, in a matter of a few years, would completely collapse with the advent of the automated automobile.

So too would gas stations and automobile service centers.  If fewer and fewer people have their own cars and rely on automated travel, then what would be the need to have a gas station?  How about a car repair center?  Suddenly, they too would become irrelevant.  The biggest service centers would be located on the grounds of whatever company has the automated vehicles.

And consider this as well: All those parking garages would also become irrelevant.  Sure, there would still be people out there who would cling to their personal automobile.

Sure, there will probably be many who don’t “trust” the idea of a computer driving you from point A to B.  However, I can easily see that becoming a very small minority.

And as far as safety is concerned, one would expect that a fleet of automated cars would be safer on the road than those driven by humans.  Less car crashes, less death and injury.  No more drunk driving (again, you call an automated car to take you to a club, you can get totally blitzed, then when you leave you call a car to take you back home).

Another profession that would have to change: Police.  Can you imagine how a police force would change with the advent of automated vehicles?  No longer would we have speeders or bad drivers.  No longer would we have tickets.

I could go on and on and on.

Sure, computers are not infallible and, naturally, rigorous tests would have to constantly be made with the autonomous vehicles’ computer systems.  But that wouldn’t be on us, would it?

Since its creation, cars have been a central part of our society and a near must have to anyone and everyone who needs to go from one point to another.  Is it now possible we’re on the verge of no longer needing to have a car of our own?

I suspect the answer is yes.