Business / Auto China

Tesla Autopilot function update follows accidents and court case

By LI FUSHENG (China Daily) Updated: 2016-09-19 08:06

Tesla Autopilot function update follows accidents and court case

Pedestrians pass by a newly opened Tesla outlet in Shanghai in August.WANG GANG/CHINA DAILY

Authorities and users question autonomous driving feature after crashes in China and US

US electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc, which was widely praised for its Autopilot, has been under fire for the same system since a Model S sedan crashed into a semi trailer that was crossing a Florida highway in May and killed the driver.

The fire has now been fueled further in China, as a court in Beijing's Chaoyang district has accepted a lawsuit filed in July against Tesla by the family of a 23-year-old driver, Gao Yaning, who died in January, reported the China Central Television. It was the world's first fatal Tesla accident known so far.

The victim's family is asking for 10,000 yuan ($1,498) in nominal compensation, according to CCTV. The national broadcaster aired onboard footage of the car hitting a truck from behind on a highway in Hebei province.

Tesla said in a statement that the car was too damaged in the wreck to transmit data to company servers, and that Gao's family had not cooperated with the company's investigation.

"We have tried repeatedly to work with our customer to investigate the cause of the crash, but he has not provided us with any additional information that would allow us to do so," it said.

A spokeswoman for the company did not respond to questions about what the car had reported before the crash.

Experts believe that the fatal accident would dampen Tesla's efforts to expand in China, the world's largest auto market.

By the end of June, the company had built 18 experience centers in the country. Tesla has reportedly explored building a manufacturing plant in China.

In early August, a Model S with the Autopilot software engaged and driver's hands of the steering wheel hit a Volkswagen Santana in Beijing. Luckily, the driver was not injured.

Following the accident, Tesla altered the translation on its website about the Autopilot system in China to clarify it's a driving-assistance system, although some of its salesmen still use "autonomous driving" to describe the function.

In China, the authorities have suspended road testing of self-driving cars.

China is one of the two countries where autonomous driving programs are most common, with the other being the US.

Chinese carmakers, including Changan Automobile Group and Zhejiang Geely, which owns Volvo, have emphasized that local road testing will be a crucial aspect of developing cars capable of self-navigating the complex traf c conditions and road signage associated with the world's largest auto market.

Tesla is updating its Autopilot system later this week. "The most significant upgrade will be the use of more advanced signal processing to create a picture of the world using the onboard radar," said the automaker on its website.

Instead of being supplemental to the camera, it said that radar alone "can be used as a primary control sensor".

It said Autopilot version 8.0 should now recognize objects like trucks crossing the road, piles of junk metal-even "a UFO"-and would know enough not to hit it, even if the system can't decipher exactly what it's seeing.

The upgrade includes automatic feedback from the cars to central Tesla GPS systems, to catalog fixed items that the radar sees-such as a sign over a highway-to prevent future false alarms for other drivers.

AP contributed to the story.

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