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Tesla puts safety back on the radar

Radars to play a bigger role in Tesla's Autopilot function (Photo: Tesla Motors)

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Angelo Rychel
Angelo Rychel
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Too little too late? Tesla CEO Elon Musk announces upgrades to Autopilot function following fatal crash. So what will change?

Big announcements and bold statements are nothing new to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. However, his recent comments during a conference call with reporters will be sure to raise some questions. Speaking about forthcoming changes to the company’s Autopilot software, he revealed they may have prevented the recent fatal crash involving the technology. According to the New York Times, he said: “These things cannot be said with absolute certainty, but we believe it is very likely that, yes, it would have.”

In May 2016, a Tesla Model S electric sedan car using the function collided with a truck in Florida. A statement released by the company at the time said the crash most likely occurred as the car was unable to detect the white truck against a bright sky. It is this detection function that the company are working to change.

Autopilot Version 8 will see an increased reliance on its radar system. Whilst such software has been a feature of Tesla cars since October 2014, the company says it was “only supposed to act as a supplementary sensor to the primary camera and image processing system.” The updates will now see these roles reversed with radars playing a bigger role than cameras.

Such a shift doesn’t come without problems; indeed sensor technology is often cited as one of the biggest challenges for automated driving. As described by the Wall Street Journal, placing greater reliance on radars could result in many false alarms, as radars are less able to distinguish between obstacles that present dangers and those that don’t. Therefore, any item in view of the of car could result in a sudden application of the brakes. Tesla says fleet learning will be required to manage such a problem.  

Alongside the changing radar function, steps will also be made to ensure drivers do not take their hands off the steering wheel for long periods of time, particularly at moderate and high speeds. 

As the investigation into the Tesla crash continues, Elon Musk and his company are clearly looking for ways to improve safety. What they are not looking for however, is a silver bullet. As reported in the New York Times, Musk told journalists that, “Perfect safety is really an impossible goal,” adding: “There won’t ever be zero fatalities. There won’t ever be zero injuries.”

Read the New York Times article here and the Wall Street Journal article here. Find the full Tesla blog here.

Find out more about how Tesla’s Autopilot function works in this video:

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Angelo Rychel
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