TuSimple’s Self-Driving Semi Truck Crash Veers Into Renewed Scrutiny
There are accusations of the company rushing software for quick profits.
Self-driving truck company TuSimple has been under fire since an April 6 crash was made public in June. One of the startup's test trucks crashed into a concrete highway median after abruptly making a hard left in the middle of traffic. Following the accident, TuSimple claimed it independently investigated the issue, upgraded its systems, and then filed a report with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. According to TuSimple, the accident was the fault of its driver, not its software. However, there are conflicting reports about the accident as well as TuSimple's software and safeguards.
Here's what TuSimple said about the accident: "On April 6, 2022, a human error occurred when two operators in a TuSimple vehicle incorrectly reengaged the autonomous driving mode without completing all of the steps necessary to safely reengage, resulting in the truck scraping a median. Fortunately, no one was injured, there was no property damage, and the only visible sign of the incident was a minor scrape on the truck."
According to the Wall Street Journal, which allegedly viewed an internal TuSimple memo recapping the accident, the truck's self-driving system executed a left turn command that was two and half minutes old after being rebooted. This document reportedly also claimed that the left turn command should have been erased from the system long before it made the move.
Next, an alleged whistleblower sent footage of the incident to The Asian Mai Show, a trucking YouTube channel. In it, you can see the steering wheel suddenly jerk to the left, nearly clipping a pickup truck, as the driver frantically turns to the right. However, by the time the driver reacted, the truck was nearly to the concrete median and there was no stopping it. Thankfully, no one was injured and the truck didn't hit any other vehicles.
Along with this footage was a letter from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to TuSimple, notifying the company it would be under investigation. The FMCSA partnered with the NHTSA on May 26 to investigate TuSimple's "operations to determine the level of safety within your transport operation." Investigators were sent in person to check out TuSimple's Tucson, Arizona, plant. TuSimple said in a statement that it welcomed the investigators "to discuss what occurred and the solutions we put in place to safeguard against human errors."
Again, TuSimple continues to blame the accident on the driver.
WSJ reports a pattern of TuSimple disregarding safety measures and even terminating employees that speak up about it. Several high-ranking executives have left in the past year, including the former CEO, who was replaced by founder Xiaodi Hou. TuSimple's previous CFO Patrick Dillon also resigned.
On March 18, 2020, John Lindland, former lead safety engineer for TuSimple, was fired. Lindland claims he was fired for refusing to ignore necessary safety measures. In March 2022, Lindland filed a lawsuit in which he alleged he "simply wanted to conduct his job duties, while Hou was only concerned with obtaining quick funding and money, regardless of the safety and functionality of the products.” TuSimple denied the allegations of Lindland's lawsuit, essentially writing him off as a disgruntled former employee.
As the FMCSA and NHTSA complete their investigations, expect TuSimple's shareholders to keep an eye out for the verdict.
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