Inside Tesla: How Elon Musk Pushed His Autopilot Vision

In May 2016, about six months after Mr. Musk’s remarks appeared in Fortune, Model S owner Joshua Brown was killed in Florida when the autopilot failed to recognize a semi-trailer crossing in front of him. His car had radar and a camera.

Mr. Musk held a brief meeting with the autopilot crew and briefly addressed the crash. He did not go into details of what went wrong, but told the team the company needs to work to make sure their cars don’t hit anything, according to two people who were in the meeting. .

Tesla later said that during the crash, the autopilot camera could not distinguish the white truck from the bright sky. Tesla has never publicly explained why the radar did not prevent the crash. Radar technology, like cameras and lidar, is not flawless. But most people in the industry think that means you need as many types of sensors as possible.

Less than a month after the crash, Mr Musk said at an event hosted by Recode, a tech publication, that autonomous driving was “fundamentally a problem solved” and Teslas can already drive more safely. than humans. He made no mention of the accident in which Mr Brown was killed, although Tesla said in a blog post a few weeks later – titled “A Tragic Loss” – that he immediately reported the episode at federal regulators.

While it’s not clear whether they were influenced by the fatal crash, Mr. Musk and Tesla quickly showed renewed interest in radar, according to three engineers who worked on the autopilot. The company began to focus on developing its own radar technology, rather than using sensors built by other vendors. The company hired Duc Vu, an expert in the field, in October 2016 from auto parts company Delphi.

But 16 months later, Mr Vu suddenly split from the company after a disagreement he had with another executive over a new wiring system in Tesla cars, the three said. . In the weeks and months that followed, other members of the radar team also left.

Several months after those departures, Tesla reclassified the radar effort as a research company rather than a company actively aiming for production, the three people said.

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