An important moment in the self-diving car debate came on May 7, 2016, when Joshua Brown lost his life after his Tesla vehicle crashed into a semi-truck trailer.
Brown had engaged Tesla’s Autopilot feature, and the software didn’t detect the white side of the trailer against the daytime sky. The car slammed into the truck at full speed — 74 miles per hour — shearing off the top of the car and killing Brown.
The accident — characterized by many as the first of self-driving car accident — caught the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board, which released hundreds of pages of new details about the incident last month.
But the industry that’s trying to make self-driving a reality takes exception with this characterization. Tesla argued that autopilot is not a self-driving technology, but more like an advanced form of cruise control. Drivers need to keep hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road at all times when Autopilot is engaged, the company says. Computer logs released by the NTSB last month show that Brown’s car warned him seven times to keep his hands on the wheel. Each time, Brown put his hands on the wheel for a few seconds — long enough to make the warnings go away — before taking them off again.
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