Tesla has begun to share some information from its investigation of the May crash involving a Model S with Autopilot active. In its blog post yesterday, the company said that the Autopilot system failed to differentiate the white side of a tractor trailer that was crossing in front of the vehicle from the bright sky behind it.
"Tesla’s autopilot system was designed in-house and uses a fusion of dozens of internally- and externally-developed component technologies to determine the proper course of action in a given scenario," said a Tesla spokesperson in a statement to The Verge today. "Since January 2016, Autopilot activates automatic emergency braking in response to any interruption of the ground plane in the path of the vehicle that cross-checks against a consistent radar signature."
This seems to be a bit of a rebuke to Mobileye, a supplier of some technology used in the Autopilot and other driver assistance systems in the Model S, which earlier today said in a statement to StreetInsider that its automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems weren’t designed to recognize a "lateral turn across path" action, and won’t be able to until 2018. Tesla’s statement suggests that its AEB system should recognize a vehicle turning in front of its cars and apply the brakes as appropriate.
However, with regards to the crash in Florida, Tesla says, "the high, white side of the box truck" — that apparently failed to cause an interruption of the ground plane as mentioned above — "combined with a radar signature that would have looked very similar to an overhead sign, caused automatic braking not to fire." This is in line with a tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk yesterday, who suggested that the system believed the truck was an overhead sign that the car could pass beneath without incident.
Mobileye, founded in 1999, has emerged as one of the heavy hitters in the fast-moving race to develop sensors and systems for self-driving technology. Its products are used by many of the largest automakers, including Volkswagen and GM, which signed deals earlier this year to crowdsource high-definition road mapping using Mobileye’s sensors. Mobileye had no additional comment on the story.
Much of Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving technology was developed in-house to be more advanced than other systems on the market, and the company uses a variety of sensors and equipment on-board the car including GPS, radar and ultrasonic sensors, cameras, and real-time connectivity to Tesla servers to determine the appropriate course of action in the relatively limited situations that the Autopilot system can handle without driver intervention.
The investigation into the Florida crash is ongoing, but details emerged earlier today that suggest the driver of the Tesla may have been watching a Harry Potter film when the crash occurred. Although Tesla warns that drivers must remain attentive while using Autopilot — which is labeled as a "beta" feature — the warnings are relatively easy to ignore.
The Florida Highway Patrol is leading the criminal investigation into the crash, which is expected to take several months to complete. A FHP spokesperson told The Verge that criminal charges are pending the completion of the investigation. Those charges are expected to be filed against the truck driver who turned left in front of the Tesla.