These incidents have pushed Tesla to improve its technology. The company has now released a fix that it hopes will help reduce the risk of crashes, however, it's a solution that still has many limitations.
Tesla Autopilot now has an important new capability
Autoweekrecently reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had launched an investigation into several Tesla cars that were involved in crashes with emergency vehicles. The Tesla drivers were using the Autopilot driver assist system when the crashes occurred.
In Orlando, a Tesla Model 3 crashed into a police car and a Mercedes-Benz SUV that were stopped along the side of the highway. At least 11 similar incidents have occurred across the U.S.
They all involved emergency vehicles that had parked along the side of the road to assist disabled cars. The emergency vehicles were using their lights to direct traffic around the scene. Teslas being driven on Autopilot were unable to detect the emergency vehicles and crashed into them.
As a result of the agency's concerns about these crashes, Tesla announced a new type of technology in its Model 3 and
Model Yvehicles. Thanks to this functionality, the Autopilot system can now detect emergency lights and slow the vehicle to allow the driver to navigate the situation safely.
Tesla hopes this technology will prevent future crashes
Tesla did not publicly announce its new technology. Instead, the manufacturer gave information about the updated functionality in its revised vehicle manuals.
According to Autoweek, the new language explains that if the "Model3/ModelY detects lights from an emergency vehicle when using Autosteer at night on a high speed road, the driving speed is automatically reduced and the touchscreen displays a message informing you of the slowdown."
Drivers will also hear a chime and see a reminder to keep their hands on the steering wheel. The warning and slowdowns are expected to provide the driver with sufficient time to take over control of the vehicle and steer it safely around any emergency vehicles along its path.
The new Autopilot detection system has one major drawback
This new technology does come with one big caveat, however. The system is only able to detect emergency vehicle lights at night. This is a substantial drawback, considering that the majority of vehicle crashes occur in the daytime or early evening.
In addition, it's not clear whether emergency lights need to flicker or operate in a strobing mode for the Autopilot self-driving feature to detect them. If emergency vehicle lights are illuminated in continuous mode, for example, it seems likely that Autopilot would be unable to differentiate them from tail lights.
The sun glare during daylight hours could also make emergency lights indistinguishable from other surface reflections. This will reduce the technology's usefulness, especially since emergency vehicle lights are already relatively easy for humans to spot on their own at night.
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