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Another Bad Week for Semi-Drivers of Semi-Self-Driving Cars


Right on the heels of Uber’s tragic self-driving car accident, Tesla reported on Friday that the Model X car that crashed into a concrete divider on March 23 and killed its driver was indeed in the Autopilot adaptive cruise control mode, which uses radar and cameras to prevent collisions while requiring drivers to keep hands on the wheel most of the time. According to a post on Tesla’s blog, the driver received “several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive” and that his "hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds before impact." More info is needed, of course—why didn’t the car stop anyway, for example, and how fast was it going—but self-driving systems clearly need more redundancies and training in order to make better calls in complex or anomalous contexts. As the company reiterated, today’s drivers of Teslas are still “3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident” and “we expect the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars.” Cars that drive themselves may be statistically safer, and current Tesla drivers aren’t turning away from the technology, but those encouraging facts are overshadowed as sales points by tragic high-profile incidents such as these, making the reality of fully-autonomous cars that are commercialized more challenging to anyone who says they’ll be ready for prime time in the next half decade.

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