Technology

Tesla’s Autopilot Crashes and More Car News This Week


Coming off the excessive pomp, ambition, and fun of CES and the Detroit Auto Show, maybe it’s not surprising this past week has been something of a wreck. To start off, two California drivers got into serious dustups because they completely misunderstood or misused their Teslas’ ability to drive themselves. One allegedly drunk driver, found stopped in the middle of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, reportedly told California Highway Patrol officers the car was in Autopilot mode. Another smashed into the back of a stopped firetruck. He said Autopilot was engaged, but Tesla has always warned the system won’t always detect stationary objects while moving at high speeds. Is this a Tesla driver problem, or a Tesla problem. Senior writer Jack Stewart hashed it out.

Plus, I looked into the Boring Company’s new and fantastical promises to build high-speed transport under Los Angeles, and Mark Harris uncovered the secrets of Uber’s secret-stealing unit. It was not the best, it seems, at stealing secrets. Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • Confusion over what a semi-autonomous vehicle can actually do caused at least two strange traffic incidents this week. Should automakers like Tesla, Cadillac, and Audi be doing (a lot) more to clarify how human drivers need to interact with this new technology? As Jack argues, probably yes.

  • No, a Tesla on Autopilot won’t necessarily brake for a stationary vehicle if it’s traveling above 50 mph. Here’s why. (Hint: It’s radar’s fault.)

  • Elon Musk makes minimum wage as Tesla’s CEO (and says he doesn’t cash the checks anyway.) That could change dramatically—if Musk hits a series of incredibly ambitious production and valuation goals. Editor Alex Davies explores the entrepreneur’s new compensation package, and what it says about the role of this singular car company in a rapidly changing industry.

  • A long-awaited self-driving car trade secrets battle will begin next month, when Waymo takes on Uber for trade secret theft. While you wait for the action, get caught up with contributor Mark Harris, who has combed through court documents to bring you details on Uber’s intelligence unit, out to spy on competitors—especially the one it called ‘Giraffe.’

  • Carmakers have already announced $90 billion in electric vehicle R&D investments in 2018, so the electric age feels nigh. Still, there are a few big technological hurdles to leap to make sure we reap their benefits. Jack—with the help of some very pretty charts—nails down five.

  • When it came to the auto space, CES sure felt like a whole stack of “save the date” postcards, didn’t it? Jack explores why so many automakers announced partnerships. Turns out they just want to prove they’re hanging with the cool kids—and innovating with them, of course.

  • Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants to tunnel all over Los Angeles to solve its traffic problem. But first, it must get permission from various local governments. I report on Monday’s presentation before a city council meeting in Culver City, in LA County. Before breaking out the shovels, Musk’s venture will have to answer a ton of questions.

Plea to Tip Your WIRED Writer of the Week

Quoth Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi during a speech in Davos, Switerland, this week: “The leaks… led Uber to finally understand that it had to make the changes that it is making as a company to break with the past and go forward as a company that does the right thing.” He also noted the press “played a very, very big part” in changing the culture at Uber.

Work at Uber, or another transportation company that needs to change? Send us completely anonymous tips here.

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Back in September, I looked at the National Transportation Safety Board’s conclusions on another Tesla Autopilot crash, a May 2016 one that killed its driver. The government panel found Tesla partly responsible for the incident. “The combined effects of human error and the lack of sufficient system controls resulted in a fatal collision that should not have happened,” Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of the NTSB, said at the time. Tesla’s tweaked its system since 2016, but critics still wonder: Is a system that asks humans to pay attention while not driving flawed from the get-go?



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