Tesla’s Autopilot system is in the news again. This time it is for a good reason. According to footage seen on YouTube, a Tesla Model 3 steered itself out of harm’s way. The Autopilot system’s reaction saved the car from suffering permanent damage.
Tesla Autopilot saves a car from a major accident
The incident occurred on US Route 1 in Los Angeles. The owner, Andrew Cochrane claims that the Autopilot feature on his car not only detected the crash but also attempted to steer the car out of harm’s way. Andrew was driving his Model 3 at the time of the accident. When he saw that traffic was backing up, he slowed down to avoid any collisions. Unfortunately, the drivers behind Andrew didn’t replicate his actions. The car directly behind Andrew’s Model 3 wasn’t going to stop before colliding with Andrew. However, a third car hit the second one even before it came near Andrew’s car.
The second car then hit the Model 3. The video reveals that the cars were at highway speeds during the time of this accident. The collision was pretty catastrophic, especially for the car directly behind Andrew. The fact that just three cars were involved in the incident is somewhat surprising considering the speeds at which they were traveling. All occupants of all 3 vehicles were safe and walked away from the accident.
The clip also contains some other dashcam incidents that Teslas captured.
What does Autopilot do?
The Autopilot system is one of the headline features of Tesla cars. The system works via cameras and ultrasonic sensors mounted on the car that allow the computer inside to create an image of the surroundings. The computer then analyses this image and monitors the car’s motion with reference to its surroundings. Pretty straightforward.
The Autopilot system is mainly useful for the cruise control feature. The car can steer itself to stay within the right lane and maintain a certain speed. This speed can be the speed limit (which the cameras can detect) or a speed set by the driver. As the car is “driving” itself, the driver can take a breather from full driving duties. But he still has to keep both hands on the steering and should be ready to brake in emergency situations.
Autopilot also helps in emergency braking situations. In case the system detects that the car is moving too fast for the surroundings, it can warn the driver, or in emergency situations, even apply the brakes.
How did Autopilot help Andrew?
This is the interesting part. As mentioned above, Autopilot mainly helps in keeping the car in check and rarely makes dramatic decisions. In Andrew’s case, it was different.
According to Andrew, the Autopilot system detected the cars crashing into the Model 3 from behind. It also detected that there were cars in front of the Model 3. After Andrew’s car was struck from behind, the car proceeded to steer itself into another lane so that it could avoid crashing into the car in front of it. This was a massively important decision because it helped contain the crash to just these three cars. It also protected the people inside the vehicle from being trapped between two crashed vehicles. And it ensured that a pileup-like situation was avoided.
This is huge. This isn’t just a situation where the system braked within a couple of meters of a wall or a vehicle. The Autopilot system may have saved multiple lives. Of course, all of this is just Andrew’s account of the accident. No proper investigation has been conducted into the incident. But according to Andrew, it was the Autopilot system that saved him from any injury.
What does all of this mean? Are we closer to self-driving cars than we thought? No. This is just the owner’s version of the events. It is not the conclusion of a thorough investigation. It also shouldn’t be seen as a glimpse into the future. This incident might even be an outlier. The reason why it is special is that it managed to correct the human error. Andrew Cochrane had no idea how horrific the crash actually was. He only realized the magnitude of the incident when he reviewed the footage of the accident. The Autopilot system ensured that no subsequent damage was caused. It also did something that the driver should have done. It steered the car to put other people out of harm’s way.
The other two cars involved in the accident were totaled. But the Model 3 managed to avoid that fate by steering into the next lane. The damage that it suffered was repairable. While this is not an incident that takes us closer to the self-driving car, it is heartening. And it is one that we should look back upon and thank the system for potentially intervening and mitigating the gravity of the incident. It may be an outlier, but it is a welcome outlier.