New insight into Tesla Model S autopilot death. 

It feels as though the self-driving car space takes two steps forward then one step back. Major players in the game have said they’re in then they’re out then they’re in again, as evidenced by Apple’s on again, off again relationship with the technology. Other companies have skirted the law in order to get to the front of the line, like Uber testing self-driving taxis without necessary permits. But even entities that are seemingly doing things right are facing controversy, like Tesla and the negative press surrounding the death of a driver last year while using the vehicle’s autopilot feature.

New insights emerge into circumstances of Joshua Brown's Tesla Model S crash.

Joshua Brown’s Tesla Model S was on autopilot at the time of his fatal crash.

YouTube

New details have emerged about that specific traffic fatality, though. Initially, the 2016 was believed to be vehicle error and left a black mark on Tesla’s reputation. The driver, Joshua Brown – who was widely known for his YouTube channel in which he demonstrated the semi self-driving car’s autopilot functionality – was traveling at 70mph when he struck another vehicle’s trailer. The most generous finding at that time was that it was a brightly lit day and the oversized trailer was a light color, possibly confusing the vehicle’s sensors.

Audible and visual warnings

However, new details of an investigation have emerged this week, showing that Brown received a total of 13 audible and visual warnings to put his hands on the steering wheel (something that Tesla requires, even in autopilot mode) and take over control of the vehicle. This took place at various points throughout the 41 minute drive, during which 37 minutes was spent in autopilot mode. That has led to unfortunate – and largely unproveable – speculation about what Brown was actually doing at the time of the crash.

More details will emerge in time, as the National Transportation Safety Board has already issued its 500-page report on this single incident. The manufacturer hopes it will shed some much-needed positive light in its direction, while the rest of the industry watches to see what effect the findings have on upcoming regulations.