yesAndrea PetersonNone
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Power

NTSB slams Tesla over deadly crash but can’t do much about it

The NTSB calls for more oversight, but it can only make recommendations.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt says a 2018 crash of a Tesla in self-driving mode was due to "the lack of system safeguards to prevent foreseeable misuses of technology."

Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

The National Transportation Safety Board's blistering attack on Tesla over a fatal 2018 crash is grabbing headlines, but that may be all it does; the NTSB itself can't impose fines or issue enforceable regulations.

Board members will have to wait on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to act.

Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.

NTSB's findings come after a nearly two-year investigation into a car crash on U.S. 101 in California that left driver Wei "Walter" Huang dead. Tesla's Autopilot feature was engaged at the time of the crash, and investigators determined that Huang's hands were not on the wheel — and that he was potentially even distracted by his iPhone.

There were "many facets" involved in the incident, said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. "But what struck me the most about the circumstances of this crash was the lack of system safeguards to prevent foreseeable misuses of technology."

Instead of bolstering those safeguards against things like driver distraction, the industry keeps implementing assisted driving technologies in ways that result in death or injury, Sumwalt said. "And the industry in some cases is ignoring the NTSB's recommendations intending to help prevent such tragedies," he added.

Errors in processing by Tesla's assisted driving system contributed to the crash, board staff said during the meeting.

NTSB investigates significant U.S. transportation incidents and makes recommendations but does not have the authority to set new rules for things like self-driving vehicles. That responsibility falls to NHTSA. During the meeting, members of the board expressed disappointment that the agency had taken so little action on emerging technologies like Autopilot.

In an emailed statement, NHTSA said it is carefully reviewing NTSB's findings and noted that current law requires human control of vehicles.

"NHTSA has for years recommended that developers of advanced driver assistance systems incorporate appropriate driver-vehicle interaction strategies in deployed technology and has made resources available that assist with that recommendation," the agency said.

However, so far, NHTSA's approach has been to make suggestions, not real rules of the road for assisted driving tech.

Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment.

The investigation into the March 23, 2018, crash is the second NTSB probe of an incident involving Tesla's self-driving technology to conclude. In September 2017, the agency found that lack of "safeguards" in the carmaker's assisted driving features contributed to the death of a Florida driver. It also issued two recommendations aimed at improving safety of assisted driving systems to six automakers — one calling for the safeguards to prevent inattentive driver misuse of the technology, and another calling for carmakers to restrict deployment of the features to only the kind of driving conditions for which they're designed.

According to Sumwalt, Tesla was the only one of those manufacturers that didn't respond. The agency typically asks companies to respond to recommendations within 90 days.

"But it's been 881 days since these recommendations were sent to Tesla, and we've heard nothing. We're still waiting," Sumwalt said.

Though we're only just now seeing the final report, the NTSB released dozens of documents about the Huang crash last week and a preliminary report last year. The vehicle's driving assistance systems misread the road, ultimately speeding up and crashing into the divider, according to the records. The car's systems also alerted Huang to pay attention during the drive with visual and audio cues.

The data suggested that driving assistance technology in Huang's vehicle previously had issues with the same stretch of highway during his commute on previous drives, and he regularly used mobile apps during that drive, including on the day of the incident — although logs reviewed my NTSB could not determine if he was holding his phone at the time of the crash.

"During the final four seconds of travel before impact, the Tesla accelerated toward the crash attenuator, and the driver took no evasive braking or steering action to avoid a crash," NTSB staffer Donald Karol said during the Tuesday board meeting. "This level of inaction given the numerous visual cues and unobstructed view indicates the driver was inattentive and not appropriately supervising the Autopilot partial automation system."

NTSB documents also noted that the injury caused by the crash was increased by the need for a replacement highway safety feature called an attenuator.

Huang's family is suing Tesla and the state of California over his death.

Mark Fong, the family's lawyer, argued that Huang's Tesla "failed to perform according to its claimed capabilities" and that he "was using Autopilot where Tesla told its customers it was safe to use," in an email to Protocol.

Regarding driver distraction, Fong added that Huang was "using Autopilot in a foreseeable manner, given the system's claimed capabilities and the way Tesla encouraged its customers to use it."

Update: This story was updated to include comments from Mark Fong, the lawyer of Walter Huang's family. The story was updated Feb. 26.

Protocol | Fintech

Jack Dorsey is so money: What Tidal and banking do for Square

Teaming up with Jay-Z's music streaming service may seem like a move done for flash, but it's ultimately all about the money (and Cash).

Jay-Z performs at the Tidal-X concert at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2017.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

It was a big week for Jack Dorsey, who started by turning heads in Wall Street, and then went Hollywood with an unexpected music-streaming deal.

Dorsey's payments company, Square, announced Monday that it now has an actual bank, Square Financial Services, which just got a charter approved. On Thursday, Dorsey announced Square was taking a majority stake in Tidal, the music-streaming service backed by Jay-Z, for $297 million.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

A racial justice protest took part of Tesla’s factory offline, an internal email says

In an email obtained by Protocol, a Tesla employee told colleagues that a protest following the Breonna Taylor grand jury decision disrupted manufacturing in Fremont.

Manufacturing in part of Tesla's Fremont factory was disrupted last month during an apparent employee protest, according to an internal email.

Photo: Lauren Hepler/Protocol

A brief disruption to production at Tesla's Fremont auto plant last month — described by the company as an act of sabotage by an employee who was subsequently fired — may have been the result of a protest over the Breonna Taylor grand jury decision, according to an internal email obtained by Protocol.

Tesla's top lawyer said last week that an employee had "maliciously sabotaged" a part of the Fremont factory, then attempted to cover it up, before ultimately confessing. In a message to Tesla workers, the lawyer called the employee's actions "crimes" and violations of the company's policies, but referred only obliquely to the perpetrator's "personal motivations."

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Power

Tesla created a battery that might someday power your car — and everything else

At its "battery day," Elon Musk showed a battery that Tesla's been working on for years and plans to build itself.

Tesla's new batteries being produced at a plant in California.

Photo: Tesla

There's a new Tesla coming next year: The Model S Plaid, which Elon Musk said "will achieve the best track time of any production vehicle ever, of any kind. Two-door or otherwise." If you can wait a bit longer, Musk also said Tesla's about three years away from selling a $25,000, fully autonomous vehicle.

But those cars weren't the point of Tuesday's event. Musk has always tried to explain Tesla as an energy company, not a car manufacturer. "The point of all this was, and remains, accelerating the advent of sustainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good," Musk wrote in his Master Plan, Part Deux in 2016.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Latest Stories