Tesla announces update to self-driving system after fatality in May

CEO Elon Musk says new system, which makes greater use of radar, would probably have prevented death of Model S driver

Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk said on Sunday the carmaker was updating its semi-autonomous driving system Autopilot with new limits on hands-off driving that probably would have prevented a fatality in May.

Musk said the update, which will be available within a week or two through an over-the-air software update, would rely foremost on radar to give Teslas electric luxury cars a better sense of what is around them and when to brake.

New restrictions on Autopilot 8.0 are a nod to widespread concerns that autopilot can lull users into a false sense of security through its hands-off driving. The updated system will temporarily prevent drivers from using it if they fail to respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car.

Were making much more effective use of radar, Musk told journalists on a call. It will be a dramatic improvement in the safety of the system done entirely through software.

Autopilot, introduced last October, has been the focus of intense scrutiny since it was revealed in July that a Tesla Model S driver, Joshua Brown, was killed while using the technology in a 7 May collision with a truck in Florida.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating Teslas Autopilot system since June because of the fatal accident. The agency said it had been briefed on the changes by Tesla.

NHTSA will review those changes, spokesman Bryan Thomas said of the new version of Autopilot. He declined to offer an update on the Tesla investigation.

Musk said it was very likely the improved Autopilot would have prevented the death of Brown, whose car sped into the trailer of a truck crossing a highway, but he cautioned that the update doesnt mean perfect safety.

Perfect safety is really an impossible goal, Musk said. Its about improving the probability of safety. There wont ever be zero fatalities, there wont ever be zero injuries.

One of the main challenges of using cameras and radars for a braking system is how to prevent so-called false positives, in which a car might think an overhead highway sign, for example, is an obstacle to be avoided.

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