Fact: A fatal Model S crash occurred in China. Question: Is Autopilot to blame?
Don’t hold your breath, but there’s a chance that the infamous Tesla crash involving the automaker’s Autopilot system that resulted in the death of Joshua Brown was actually the second death to occur at the hands of an autonomous car. According to Reuters, another fatal Model S crash occurred in China this past January and, allegedly, Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident. The crash that occurred on a Florida highway was highly reported for being one of the first instances of death by failure of autonomous systems.
Even though technology has proven itself to be a reliable asset that can save and improve lives, many people are still fairly uncomfortable allowing a computer control a vehicle weighing multiple tons at high speeds near other heavy vehicles also traveling fast. As a result, any instance of malfunction is magnified. However, the case of 23 year-old Gao Yaning may prove that the media fire was a few months too late. Details aren’t too clear at the moment, but Tesla is currently investigating claims that Yaning died while Autopilot was engaged as he was traveling on a highway in the northeastern province of Hebei. Apparently, Yaning borrowed the Model S from his father and was traveling fast when it rammed into the back of a road sweeping vehicle.
At the time of the accident, road conditions were foggy, but that is no issue for the radar sensor used by Autopilot and according to a dashcam video of the crash, the street sweeper was still highly visible. Still, there seems to be no indication that car or driver tried to slow down. Both the dealer that sold the family the Model S and Tesla Motors have been sued, but it’s still unclear if Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident. According to a statement by Tesla, “Because of the damage caused by the collision, the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to our servers." This means the automaker will have to do some digging to find the answer, but Tesla says that the Yaning family has not provided any further details.