Elon Musk: Upgraded Autopilot could have prevented fatal Model S crash

Tesla autopilot

Tesla’s Autopilot should get a lot safer in the next few weeks.

The electric car maker plans to roll out a new software update in a week or two that will bring significant improvements to Autopilot, CEO Elon Musk said during a press call Sunday.

One big way the company is enhancing the accuracy of Autopilot is by tweaking the system’s software so that data collected by the car’s radar sensor carries more weight when determining whether the car should brake or not.

Currently, the radar sensor on Tesla vehicles plays a supplementary role by complementing the camera sensors. But once the over-the-air update hits, the camera and radar will both be primary control sensors, meaning they will work closer together in deciding what obstacles to avoid.

The changes to Autopilot come at a time when Tesla is under increased scrutiny for its semi-autonomous system. A fatal accident in May involving Tesla’s Autopilot system prompted a preliminary evaluation of Tesla’s Autopilot system by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Autopilot crash
Damage to Joshua Brown’s Model S after hitting the semi-truck. National Transportation Safety Board

Musk, though, said he believes the new Autopilot changes will make Tesla vehicles the safest cars on the road. In fact, when asked if the updated Autopilot would have been able to prevent the fatal accident, Musk said there is a good chance it would have.

“These things cannot be said with absolute certainty, but yes, we believe it would have.”

In June, Tesla said in a blog post that the vehicle was driving down a divided highway when a white semi-truck cut across the highway perpendicular to the Model S.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against the brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” the company said at the time.

However, Musk said that the updated Autopilot would use the radar data to better assess the situation, so that the car would respond more accurately.

“It would see a large metal object across the road and knowing that there is no overhead road sign in that position, this would therefore not be a whitelisted situation. The impact probability would be assessed as high and so it would break,” Musk said.

As part of the software update, Tesla’s Autopilot will also be able to automatically take off-ramp exits and will have improved Autosteering.

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