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NHTSA announces recall of all Tesla vehicles with Autopilot.

Feds Order Recall of All Autopilot-Equipped Teslas

NHTSA announces a recall of Tesla BEVs equipped with self-driving systems, known as Autopilot, over crashes and fatalities.

Elon Musk loses his defense of Tesla’s Autopilot system as NHTSA announces the BEV manufacturer will recall 362,758 vehicles with its Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta software.

The recall notice from the federal regulator says Tesla’s experimental FSD software “may allow the vehicle to act unsafe around intersections,” such as driving through an intersection in a turn-only lane or through a stop-sign-controlled intersection.

NHTSA says the Tesla system may not respond to changes in posted speed limits or “not adequately account for the driver’s adjustment of the vehicle’s speed to exceed posted speed limits.”

In short, Tesla’s FSD software doesn’t work, and is dangerous.

Since 2016, NHTSA has opened 41 special crash investigations related to Tesla vehicles where Autopilot, powered by the FSD software, was suspected of being used. There were eight probes in 2022 alone. A total of 19 deaths have been reported in Tesla-involved investigations.

Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has been fairly defiant and cavalier in his responses to the crashes over the past few years, and took to Twitter to characterize what Tesla plans to do with the recalled vehicles as a software update: “The word ‘recall’ for an over-the-air software update is anachronistic and just flat wrong!” Musk said nothing about the deaths and crashes related to the failure of the Tesla system, which prompted the NHTSA probes and led to the recall.

“Manufacturers must initiate a recall for any repair, including a software update that remedies an unreasonable risk to safety,” NHTSA said.

The FSD software costs Tesla buyers $15,000 as a feature when the car is also equipped with the necessary hardware to make the system operate. Tesla says it only equips a car with Autopilot if the user has a high driver safety score as determined through its own driver monitoring system. So, Tesla self-validates its buyers to qualify them to give the company $15,000.

Tesla does not have a functioning public relations/media relations department to offer any information or background on the situation outside of Musk’s tweets.

Tesla’s system attempts to do much more than those of competitors. For example, Ford’s BlueCruise and General Motors’ SuperCruise systems only allow drivers to operate hands-free on highways that have been certified and electronically filtered for hands-free driving.

The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are also probing Tesla over its vehicles’ self-driving system. Those agencies have revealed that Musk oversaw the creation of a 2016 video that exaggerated FSD’s capabilities, even dictating the opening text that claimed the company’s cars drive themselves. Emails regarding the production of the video were leaked to Bloomberg News.

It is standard procedure at auto companies that such claims and consumer-facing messaging is vetted in great detail by both engineers and lawyers. It is unclear what Tesla’s system entails.

In footage that was left out of that 2016 video promoting Tesla’s self-driving technology, a test car crashed into a fence in Tesla’s parking lot. Tesla Autopilot software director Ashok Elluswamy has testified to the events, according to a Reuters report. In order to complete the video, the engineer testified, Tesla staff had to take control of the car.

At the recent CES 2023 annual gathering of automakers, electronics companies and suppliers in Las Vegas, there was much discussion about the future of autonomous driving in the wake of Ford and Volkswagen folding their Argo AI joint venture that had been developing autonomous driving technology.

SAE long ago established a protocol for autonomous driving: Level 1 = driver assistance; Level 2 = partial driving automation, Level 3 = conditional driving automation, Level 4 = high driving automation, Level 5 = full autonomous driving, no driver assistance. But Amnon Shashua, CEO of autonomous-vehicle developer Mobileye, says he believes the SAE system has fogged the discussion around autonomous mobility.

“We should be talking about hands-on, hands-off, and eyes-on-road and eyes-off. It is a simpler way to understand the technology progression,” Shashua says. He also likes the phrase “ramp to ramp,” to signify autonomous highway driving for commercial vehicles and eventually perhaps private passenger cars operating hands-free and eyes-free on adequately marked highways, with the driver retaking the wheel at the exit ramp and into urban traffic.

Full driverless mobility on passenger cars is not the point of the technology, says Ziv Benyamini, CEO of Foretellix, which verifies autonomous driving systems for safety and reliability. “Companies trying for L4 autonomous driving in urban environments are making a mistake…L4 for highway driving is our focus,” as well as vehicles for agriculture and mining.

Autonomous technology has been widely deployed in agriculture, mining and warehousing vehicles that operate in controlled off-road environments. There is also a concerted effort by heavy-truck makers, including Volvo and Navistar, for example, to test the technology on highway driving only.

Musk’s Tesla, by most accounts, has jumped the gun in giving customers a self-driving system that neither drivers nor urban infrastructures are ready for.

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