While the Tesla Autopilot system certainly has a ton of benefits, this flaw might be one of its major downsides. A Model S hit a barrier full-speed earlier this week due to an autopilot misread of the road.
The driver posted images to the Tesla sub-Reddit on Monday with this description:
“I was driving in the left lane of a two lane highway. The car is AP1 (first generation Autopilot) and I’ve never had any problems until today. Autopilot was on and didn’t give me a warning. It misread the road and hit the barrier. After the airbags deployed there was a bunch of smoke and my car rolled to a grinding stop. Thankfully no one was hurt and I walked away with only bruises.”
A few days later, another Reddit user uploaded what he thinks is the dashcam video he found floating through Instagram:
The biggest reason for the error could be that the Autopilot was engaged at a construction zone - and a poorly designed one at that. One can see the white lane markings lead clearly into the barrier. In terms of the Tesla Autopilot's Autosteer functionality, it succeeded. It kept the car in the prescribed and clear lanes.
What could've failed was the 'Forward Collision Warning.' The driver claimed there was no warning about the barrier. However, the Model S used the AP1 system, so there's a chance it wasn't equipped to sense the barrier.
What about the system's Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)? AEB isn't tied to the Autopilot, nor does the Autopilot have to be activated in order for the AEB to kick in. The AEB comes in at the last moment to potentially "reduce the impact of an unavoidable frontal collision." However, the car doesn't seem to slow in this video at all. That's because the AEB only activates as the last possible resort. The Autopilot knew the driver had room to move lanes, and the car wasn't supposed to brake to miss the concrete barrier.
Are there some technical glitches in this system? Sure. But is it clear from the video there's a good chance the driver wasn't paying attention? Oh yes. Tesla wants all drivers to keep their hands on the wheel (at least until the Autopilot reaches level 4 or even 5 autonomy). The driver remains responsible for controlling the vehicle, even with the Autopilot's driver assist system engaged.
Despite the accidents, the Tesla Autopilot has had some famous successes. Most notably, the autopilot on a Model X seemed to a predict an accident two cars ahead of the driver. The crash prevention came thanks to the Autopilot's radar technology. The radar maps the entire space around the vehicle, including keeping tabs on the two or three cars in front of the system itself.
Images Source: u_- via Reddit