Inside Tesla: How Elon Musk Pushed His Vision for Autopilot
In May 2016, almost six months after Mr. Musk’s remarks appeared in Fortune, Model S owner Joshua Brown died in Florida when the autopilot failed to recognize a tractor-trailer crossing in front of him. His car had radar and a camera.
Mr. Musk held a brief meeting with the autopilot team and briefly addressed the accident. He did not elaborate on what went wrong, but two people who were part of the meeting said the company should work to make sure their car did not hit anything.
Tesla later said that during the accident, the autopilot’s camera could not distinguish between a white truck and a bright sky. Tesla never publicly explained why the radar did not prevent the accident. Radar technology, such as camera and lidar, is not flawless. But most in the industry believe that this means you need as many types of sensors as possible.
Less than a month after the crash, Mr. Musk said at an event hosted by tech publication, Record, that autonomous driving is “basically a problem-solving problem” and that Teslas could already drive more safely than humans. He made no mention of the accident in which Mr Brown died, although Tesla said in a blog post a few weeks later – titled “A Tragic Loss” – that he had immediately reported the incident to federal regulators.
Although it is not clear if they were affected by the fatal crash, according to three engineers working on the autopilot, Mr. Musk and Tesla soon showed a new interest in radar. The company began trying to build its own radar technology instead of using sensors manufactured by other suppliers. The company hired Duc Vu, an expert in the field, in October 2016 from auto parts company Delphi.
But 16 months later, after a dispute with another executive over a new wiring system in Tesla’s car, Mr. Wu suddenly left the company, the trio said. In the weeks and months that followed, other members of the radar team also left.
Several months after that release, Tesla reclassified radar efforts as a research venture without actively aiming for production, the trio said.
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