A deadly car crash announced by automaker Tesla Motors Inc. may reveal a vulnerability in self-driving auto technology. Tesla says a motorist died when the Tesla he was driving crashed into a tractor-trailer while on autopilot mode.
The fatal wreck occurred in May, according to the Los Angeles Times. The man was riding in his Tesla on self-driving mode when the semi made a left turn in front of him. Tesla believes that bright sunshine caused the autopilot to fail to distinguish the sky from the white trailer.
The car passed underneath the trailer until something underneath crashed through the Tesla’s windshield. The driver died as a result.
Tesla says its autopilot tool is still in “beta mode,” meaning it is still testing its version of self-driving technology. Its cars remind users that they are supposed to keep their hands on the wheel while the self-driving mode is on, and be prepared to take over in case of a failure.
Still, the fact that the technology failed to brake as the truck is troubling. If self-driving cars are to be as safe and reliable as Tesla, Google and other companies are promising, they must be able to recognize sudden dangers in any conditions, and react accordingly. Certainly, if the danger in question is coming from a large commercial truck in the daytime.
Hopefully, any defects that will put users’ lives in danger will be eliminated before this technology reaches the open market. Motor vehicles are too powerful to trust our safety to self-driving technology that cannot consistently prevent crashes.