An investigation was launched today after the driver of a Tesla was killed in what is understood to be a malfunction of the car's autopilot.
Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old Ohio man, was killed on May 7 while driving his 2015 Tesla Model S on Route 27 in Florida. The car was using the optional autopilot system, which controls the luxury sedan's speed and distance from objects, when both he and the computer system failed to spot an 18-wheel tractor trailer on the road.
"The vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S," Tesla said in a statement on Thursday.
"Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield."
Tesla said that if the car had hit either the front or the back of the trailer, its safety systems would almost certainly have saved Brown's life. But when it hit the trailer side, the force of the impact ripped the top off the Tesla, killing Brown.
The tractor driver, Frank Baressi, 62, of Tampa, Florida, was not harmed in the smash. Baressi claimed Brown was watching a Harry Potter video, possibly on a portable DVD player, just before the deadly crash.
Eerily, Brown – an ex-US Navy technician who had started his own company Nexu – uploaded a video to YouTube on April 10 claiming his Tesla S's autopilot had saved his life from a crash with another truck:
"The autopilot saved the car autonomously from a side collision from a boom lift truck," explained Brown on his video's page.
"I actually wasn't watching that direction and Tessy (the name of my car) was on duty with autopilot engaged. I became aware of the danger when Tessy alerted me with the 'immediately take over' warning chime and the car swerving to the right to avoid the side collision.
"I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities. I have always been impressed with the car, but I had not tested the car's side collision avoidance. I am VERY impressed. Excellent job Elon!"
Tesla said this is the first autopilot-related fatality in 130 million miles driven by its autos. This compares to the average fatality of one per 94 million miles for standard cars in the US, and every 60 million miles globally.
"The customer who died in this crash had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss," the Elon Musk-led biz said.
"He was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla's mission. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends."
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will now probe exactly what happened in the moments before Brown was killed. ®