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US Seeks Information From Tesla on How It Developed and Verified Whether Autopilot Recall Worked

07.05.2024
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According to an article from US News - Federal highway safety investigators are requesting Tesla to disclose the process and rationale behind the development of the solution in a recall affecting over 2 million vehicles equipped with Tesla's Autopilot partially automated driving system.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigators are expressing concerns regarding the effectiveness of the recall remedy, as Tesla has reported 20 accidents since the remedy was distributed as an online software update in December.

In a letter posted on the agency's website Tuesday, investigators stated their inability to discern any distinction in the driver warnings prompting attention before and after the implementation of the new software. The agency declared its intention to assess the adequacy of driver warnings, particularly when the driver-monitoring camera is obstructed.

The agency has requested extensive information regarding Tesla's process in developing the remedy, focusing particularly on the utilization of human behavior science to evaluate the effectiveness of the recall.

The 18-page letter queries Tesla on its incorporation of human behavior science in the design of Autopilot, as well as the company's assessment of the significance of human factors evaluation. Additionally, Tesla is urged to identify all roles involved in human behavior evaluation and the qualifications of individuals occupying these positions, and to confirm whether these positions remain active.

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The Associated Press sought comment from Tesla regarding the NHTSA letter, but no response was provided early Tuesday.

Tesla is currently undergoing layoffs affecting approximately 10% of its workforce, roughly 14,000 employees, as part of cost-cutting measures to address declining global sales. CEO Elon Musk has been emphasizing to Wall Street that the company is more of an artificial intelligence and robotics firm rather than just an automaker.

Phil Koopman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor specializing in automated driving safety, suggests that the letter indicates the recall did little to resolve issues with Autopilot, viewing it as an attempt by Tesla to appease NHTSA following over two years of investigation.

Koopman remarks, "It's pretty clear to everyone watching that Tesla tried to do the least possible remedy to see what they could get away with," adding, "And NHTSA has to respond forcefully or other car companies will start pushing out inadequate remedies."

NHTSA is also seeking clarification from Tesla regarding how the recall remedy addresses driver confusion regarding whether Autopilot has been disengaged if force is applied to the steering wheel. The recall introduced a feature that provides a "more pronounced slowdown" to alert drivers when Autopilot is disengaged, but activation of the system is not automatic - drivers must initiate it. Investigators are interested in the number of drivers who have taken this step.

Koopman questions, "What do you mean you have a remedy and it doesn't actually get turned on?" He interprets the letter as evidence of NHTSA scrutinizing whether Tesla conducted tests to validate the efficacy of the fixes. "Looking at the remedy I struggled to believe that there's a lot of analysis proving that these will improve safety," Koopman adds.

The agency has announced intentions to evaluate the "prominence and scope" of Autopilot's controls to address issues of misuse, confusion, and its operation in areas not intended for the system.

Safety advocates have long expressed concerns that Autopilot, while capable of maintaining a vehicle within its lane and a safe distance from objects in front, is not designed for operation on roads other than limited-access highways.

Tesla advises owners that the system cannot drive the vehicle autonomously, despite its name, and emphasizes that drivers must remain prepared to intervene at all times.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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