Car’s Au­topi­lot cued man to put his hands on the steer­ing wheel 7 times, re­ports say.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Rachel Spacek rachel.spacek@la­ The As­so­ci­ated Press was used in com­pil­ing this re­port.

A Tesla car in Au­topi­lot mode warned its driver seven times to put his hands on the steer­ing wheel dur­ing the 40 min­utes be­fore the crash that ended his life last year, a newly re­leased set of re­ports from the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board re­vealed.

The re­ports, re­leased this week, con­tain a cache of de­tails that the fed­eral safety reg­u­la­tor is us­ing in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the May 2016 crash in Florida that left 40year-old Joshua Brown dead.

The crash — in which Brown’s Tesla Model S sedan drove un­der the trailer of a big-rig truck that was mak­ing a left turn — drew world­wide at­ten­tion and raised ques­tions about the safety of Tesla’s semi­au­tonomous Au­topi­lot fea­ture.

Tesla Inc., which is based in Palo Alto and led by Elon Musk, has re­peat­edly called Au­topi­lot an “as­sist fea­ture.” It has said that while us­ing Au­topi­lot, driv­ers must keep their hands on the wheel at all times and be pre­pared to take over if nec­es­sary.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by a dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tor, the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, con­cluded in Jan­uary that the Au­topi­lot soft­ware in Brown’s car did not have any safety de­fects.

The drive lead­ing up to the crash was 41 min­utes long, and Au­topi­lot was in use for 37 of those min­utes, ac­cord­ing to an NTSB re­port on data from the car’s ve­hi­cle recorder and Tesla’s servers.

Over the course of those 37 min­utes, the re­port said, the car de­tected hands on the steer­ing wheel for a to­tal of only 25 sec­onds.

Seven times, the car gave Brown a vis­ual warn­ing to put his hands on the wheel, and six of those vis­ual warn­ings were ac­com­pa­nied by a chime sound, the re­port said. Af­ter each warn­ing, the car de­tected hands on the wheel for a pe­riod of 1 to 3 sec­onds.

The last of those warn­ings took place about six min­utes be­fore the crash, the re­port shows.

Tesla’s Au­topi­lot sys­tem uses cam­eras with 360-de­gree vis­i­bil­ity, sen­sors and a for­ward-fac­ing radar to iden­tify ob­jects and ap­ply the brakes if the car is about to hit some­thing. The fea­ture also keeps the car cen­tered in its lane.

Brown’s car was go­ing 74 mph on a high­way when it hit the big rig. The Au­topi­lot ap­par­ently failed to dis­tin­guish be­tween the white truck and the bright sky be­hind it.

A wit­ness in­ter­viewed by the NTSB said Brown should have seen the truck.

“He wasn’t on top of it, but he should have seen and been able to at least slow down a lot,” said Ter­rence Mul­li­gan, who was driv­ing be­hind the truck. “And I just — I as­sumed he was on a cell­phone.”

In Septem­ber, Tesla an­nounced im­prove­ments to Au­topi­lot, in­clud­ing one that dis­ables the Au­tosteer fea­ture and slowly stops the car if the driver re­peat­edly ig­nores warn­ings to put hands back on the wheel.

Katie Falken­berg Los An­ge­les Times

TESLA HAS called Au­topi­lot an “as­sist fea­ture.” Above, Ja­son Fu­den­berg, pres­i­dent of the L.A. Tesla Club, drives us­ing Au­topi­lot near Sher­man Oaks last year.

As­so­ci­ated Press

THE AF­TER­MATH of the 2016 crash in Florida that killed a man who was us­ing Tesla’s Au­topi­lot fea­ture.

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