Watch Yet Another Tesla Model S Crash While on Autopilot
Autonomous driving system fails to detect van partially blocking the lane.
The hits just keep on coming. Another Tesla Model S crashed while under the control of its self-driving Autopilot—and this time, the whole accident was caught on the Tesla's dash camera.
The crash, apparently in Switzerland on May 19, occurred when a Model S slammed into a Fiat work van that was stopped on the far left of the left lane with flashers blazing. The Tesla's collision-avoidance system seems to kick in as it closes in—you can hear the car go to red alert—but it does so a moment too late to keep the electric car from slamming into the back of the Fiat.
The car's owner, who posted the video to YouTube under the name Chris Thomann, claims the car's litany of semi-autonomous systems thoroughly let him down. In the video's description, he states that "the TACC active cruise control did not brake as it normally does," "The collision avoidance system (AEB) did not make an emergency brake," "The forward collision warning turned on way too late, it was set to normal warning distance," and that "The TACC actually was speeding up just before I did hit the brakes."
"Yes, I could have reacted sooner," he wrote, "but when the car slows down correctly 1,000 times, you trust it to do it the next time to [sic]."
Thomann wrote that he spoke with Tesla's European division about the accident, and Tesla claimed that "all systems worked as expected."
While we obviously weren't in the car at the time of the crash, we're inclined to side with Tesla based on the footage. Like every active cruise control system, Autopilot is designed to brake if the vehicle in front of it slows or stops. In this case, however, the Autopilot may have been confused by the fact that the broken-down van was only blocking part of the lane ahead of it, as well as the fact that the car the Tesla was trailing neither moved out of the lane entirely nor slowed down. (If anything, it appears to speed up.)
If the Model S's radar were locked onto the car ahead of it, it could have stayed locked on that vehicle through the improper passing maneuver and not seen the stopped van until it was too late. And if it were locked on the car ahead as it sped up, the Tesla might have increased its own speed in response. All of which would look exactly like what happened.
So whether Thomann's Tesla failed or not, consider the video a friendly reminder. No matter how effective today's autonomous driving systems may be, they're still a long way off from being as skilled at sorting out complex problems as that clump of gray matter situated between your ears.
Update: It appears the YouTube video in question has been set to private viewing only. However, we'll leave the video embed below, on the off chance the poster chooses to make it public again.