Feds Launch Investigation into Self-Driving Cars
by Hayder Radha | Unexplained Mysteries
It’s hard to miss the flashing lights of fire engines, ambulances and police cars ahead of you as you’re driving down the road. But in at least 11 cases in the past three and a half years, Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driver-assistance system did just that. This led to 11 accidents in which Teslas crashed into emergency vehicles or other vehicles at those scenes, resulting in 17 injuries and one death.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has launched an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system in response to the crashes. The incidents took place between January 2018 and July 2021 in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas. The probe covers 765,000 Tesla cars – that’s virtually every car the company has made in the last seven years. It’s also not the first time the federal government has investigated Tesla’s Autopilot.
As a researcher who studies autonomous vehicles, I believe the investigation will put pressure on Tesla to reevaluate the technologies the company uses in Autopilot and could influence the future of driver-assistance systems and autonomous vehicles.
How Tesla’s Autopilot Works
Tesla’s Autopilot uses cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors to support two major features: Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer.
Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, also known as adaptive cruise control, maintains a safe distance between the car and other vehicles that are driving ahead of it. This technology primarily uses cameras in conjunction with artificial intelligence algorithms to detect surrounding objects such as vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and estimate their distances. Autosteer uses cameras to detect clearly marked lines on the road to keep the vehicle within its lane.
In addition to its Autopilot capabilities, Tesla has been offering what it calls “full self-driving” features that include autopark and auto lane change. Since its first offering of the Autopilot system and other self-driving features, Tesla has consistently warned users that these technologies require active driver supervision and that these features do not make the vehicle autonomous.