Another Tesla Autopilot Crash

And another crash involving a police car on the side of the road. Can Auto-Pilot Safety Be Improved?

Earlier Tuesday morning, there was another Tesla accident that was reported. The driver of the Tesla was said to be on autopilot and reportedly crashed into an Arizona Department of Public Safety police vehicle. [SNIP]

The patrol was already on the far left side of the road assisting with an earlier crash, and that is when the Tesla was said to have failed to slow down and move over, causing the crash to happen.

And it doesn’t end there…

The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration went as far as wanting a recall on the Tesla vehicle until the car is safe enough to drive and preventative cars from crashing due to it’s high-tech driver mode.

For some reason, there are not any stories in the regular media about this crash, but lots of stories about the soaring stock price.

Tesla Discovers that Manufacturing is Hard

This would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad. Tesla reportedly shipping Model Ys with significant manufacturing defects.

Among the issues catalogued at Electrek, on Reddit, and on YouTube channels are excessive road noise and alignment issues, rear hatches that don’t close properly, charge port doors that don’t close, misaligned doors and exterior trim, scratched body panels, substandard paint, underfloor panels that weren’t fully attached to the car, dirty or damaged interiors, broken seat belts, and even rear seats that aren’t actually attached to the rest of the car.

The Tesla Model Y community has even gone so far as to create a crowdsourced checklist of things that buyers of the $60,990 electric crossover should examine carefully before accepting delivery.

Quality Control?

Tesla – News I Missed

Between COVID-19, and other stuff in the news, here are a couple of stories I missed…

Another case where Tesla Autopilot seems to have trouble seeing stuff that is white. Watch an oblivious Tesla Model 3 smash into an overturned truck on a highway ‘while under Autopilot’.

A Tesla Model 3 plowed straight into the roof of an overturned truck lying across a highway in Taiwan, sparking fears the driver trusted the car’s Autopilot a little too much.

The smash occurred on Monday at 0640 local time (2240 UTC) and the drivers of both vehicles were unharmed according to Taiwan’s Liberty Times.

There is video if you click thru. The driver had autopilot engaged; he did slam on the brakes, but it was too late. (Hat tip to WUWT.)

In another case where someone dozed off behind the wheel of their “self-driving” car… Tesla sued over Tokyo biker’s death in ‘dozing driver’ Autopilot crash.

Tesla is being sued by the widow and daughter of a man killed when an allegedly dozing driver let his Model X’s Autopilot feature steer it into a group of people.

The crash took place in 2018, but the suit has just been filed in April.

And on the subject of crashes from 2018, the case of the Apple engineer who died when his car sped up and veered into a barrier… How many times do we have to tell you? A Tesla isn’t a self-driving car, say investigators after Apple man’s fatal crash. The final NHTSA report was published in February.

What is interesting to me is Tesla’s reaction to the probe into this man’s death.

A final hearing, held on Tuesday, did not address why the vehicle suddenly sped up and turned; that may well be because, incredibly, Tesla refused to cooperate with the probe.

Members of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), questioned during the hearing, said Tesla snubbed requests to describe how its cars were designed to operate under specific conditions, and that Elon Musk’s engineers did not intend to take any actions regarding NHTSA’s recommendations in its previous safety reports.

Tesla’s Autopilot – a super-cruise-control feature rather than a true autonomous vehicle system – was described as a “beta”-grade feature by the NTSB.

I suppose Tesla feels its “autopilot” is a trade secret, or something. Though they really need to change the name.

I for one, welcome our new self-driving overlords

Not quite coded up to standards I have, but then I got out because failure is an option in tech today. (Even when it probably shouldn’t be.) “I was just shaking”—new documents reveal details of fatal Tesla crash | Ars Technica.

The Tesla didn’t slow down at all before the crash. “Autopilot” was engaged, self-steer was engaged. The system didn’t detect the driver’s hands on the wheel.

Investigations into the 2016 Josh Brown crash revealed that (as my colleague Jonathan Gitlin wrote) “The machine learning algorithms that underpin AEB systems have only been trained to recognize the rear of other vehicles, not profiles or other aspects.” Meanwhile, some driver-assistance systems are designed to ignore stationary objects at high speeds, in part because radar-based systems have trouble distinguishing objects in the road from objects that are merely near the road. There have been multiple cases where Autopilot has steered Teslas into parked vehicles in broad daylight

More will be known when the NTSB publishes its final report.

Why the Stock Market Is Starting to Remind Me of the dot-com Insanity

Tesla Motors has a stock valuation that is completely unhinged from reality. If this isn’t reminiscent of pets.com, I don’t know what is.

Consider that in 2019 Tesla Motors sold less than 370,000 vehicles of all types, worldwide. Number of Tesla vehicles delivered worldwide from 4th quarter 2015 to 4th quarter 2019.

For a contrast – not chosen at random – lets look at Ford and the F-Series pickup truck. 2019 U.S Pickup Truck Sales Analysis. Well actually we can consider all pickup trucks, but comparing with Ford will do. As always, click the image for a larger view.

During 2019 Ford sold 896,526 F-series pickups in the US, and another 145,210 in Canada.

Also, while Ford manages to make money, as of 2018 (the most recent year I can find numbers for) Tesla lost something like 300 million dollars. Yet the market thinks that Tesla is worth more than Ford. Only to people who don’t know how to read a balance sheet or a statement of cash flows.

As bad as Tesla Motors is, there is almost always a carnie-barker hypnotizing the markets, or some bit of them. But Tesla isn’t alone.

Consider Carnival Cruise Lines, that currently has 2 ships tied up various places, and will certainly lose money over the Coronavirus outbreak. Carnival stock’s rally is a sign ‘this market is driven by hope,’ Jim Cramer says.

Now I don’t always like Jim Cramer, but I mostly object to his style. The man is not an idiot.

Wall Street is “blessing any company that spells out its China losses, from Carnival, with its highly visible duo of plague ships, [to] PVH and Nike,” the “Mad Money” host said. “When you see Carnival stock up 2.6% today on the possibility of a big but quantifiable chunk of earnings going away, well, you know this market is driven by hope.”

Before the market opened, Carnival announced that its earnings potential could decrease by 65 cents per share should the company have to shut down its Asia operations through April.

That 65¢ per share is on an EPS of $4.32 for the trailing twelve months. That is not an insignificant hit to the bottom line.

When people tell you that you can’t lose money in something… well, let’s just say that’s what I was hearing in the late 1990s about internet stocks, and around 2005 about real estate. This is the point were I reference Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings.” You have to scroll down a bit at that link.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

That’s my favorite stanza, probably, from that poem, which is all good. And while written in 1919 or so, manages to be very much on the money today.

Will Someone Please Hold Tesla Accountable

It will probably be Germany that does anything. Tesla needs to fix Autopilot safety flaws, demands Senator Markey.

Tesla’s Autosteer INCREASED crashes by 59 percent.

In 2016, the German transport minister told the company “to no longer use the misleading term for the driver-assistance system of the car.” In 2018, two US consumer safety groups asked the Federal Trade Commission to address Autopilot’s “deceptive and misleading” branding. In 2019, we discovered that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told the company to stop making “misleading statements” when it comes to safety, and the company repeatedly made claims about the safety of Autopilot that were not supported by fact. (The data showed that Autosteer—a component of the Autopilot suite of assists—actually increased crashes by 59 percent.)

Not that anyone will say boo to Tesla.

Tesla (on Autopilot) Rear-ends Cop Car

Do I need to say that the cop car had its lights flashing? It did. Tesla on autopilot rear-ended Connecticut cop car as driver checked on dog: police.

State police said troopers had their emergency lights on at the time of the incident, police said.

After his car hit the police cruiser, he hit the car in front of the police cruiser, and then he had to be stopped a short distance later by another police cruiser at the scene.

Tesla should be sued for naming a non-autopilot system “Autopilot.” Aren’t there “truth in advertising” laws?

Hat tip to Small Dead Animals, who notes: I, For One, Welcome Our New Self Driving Overlords.

How to Get a Solar Panel to Catch Fire

It doesn’t start with poor installation, but that seems to be at least part of the problem. Hackaday – Solar System Wars: Walmart Versus Tesla.

So some of the details of Walmart’s suit against Tesla for the solar-panel-related fires has come to light. Some of it is what I expected, and some of it isn’t.

After Walmart had 3 solar-related fires in a short time they had Solar City/Tesla “de-energize” all remaining systems. (Disconnect from the inverter/mains as far as I can tell.) But that didn’t stop one more fire from breaking out in a de-energized panel assembly.

Among the problems that Walmart’s consultants discovered by investigating the surviving solar arrays were improper grounding, poor wire management leading to insulation abrasions and wear, and lack of as-built drawings and proper documentation. But the most glaring errors alleged by the inspectors were the presence of hotspots in the arrays, and improper installation of the connectors used to string together the solar panels.

Hotspots in photovoltaic arrays occur when one or more cells in a series-connected string of cells are underperforming for some reason — say, by being shaded by leaves or dirt. The shaded cell or cells can then become the current limiting element in the series circuit, which can lead to reverse-biasing of the bad cells. This essentially dumps all the power from the good cells into the bad cells, heating them up to possibly the point of failure due to melted solder joints, cracked silicon, and, as appears to be the case with the Walmart fires, ignition of the materials used to encapsulate the cells.

These are much larger installations than any I’ve ever dealt with. I had 2 largish panels on my boat. Friends had 4 or 6, depending, but they sometimes were smaller. You can imagine that the roof of your average Walmart store would support quite a few panels, which will either give you more voltage, or more amperage, or some combination of both depending on how you wire them together.

There is a link to download the entire PDF of the suit at Hackaday. I haven’t done it. Yet.

Amazon and Walmart Have Tesla-related Solar Panel Fires

More bad press for Tesla that the fanbois will ignore. Amazon Joins Walmart in Saying Tesla Solar Panel Caught Fire.

On Friday, Amazon.com Inc. said a June 2018 blaze on the roof of one of its warehouses in Redlands, California, involved a solar panel system that Tesla’s SolarCity division had installed. The Seattle-based retail giant said by email that it has since taken steps to protect its facilities and has no plans to install more Tesla systems.

News of the Amazon fire comes just three days after Walmart dropped a bombshell lawsuit against Tesla, accusing it of shoddy panel installations that led to fires at more than a half-dozen stores.

In general, solar panels are a mature and safe technology. Not sure what problems Tesla could be having, though apparently there is a faulty connector that Tesla is trying to replace. (I’m sure they specified custom parts, because buying electrical connectors from Molex or McMaster-Carr or wherever is SO 20th Century. Or something.)

Tesla’s Solar Roof: Not ready for prime-time

Because when you do business with an “established” firm, it should be as crazy as signing up for a “GoFundMe” campaign. Or something. Some Tesla customers who ordered the Solar Roof have no idea when they’ll get it.

  • Three years ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the electric-car maker and energy company’s solar roof tiles would set the company’s energy products apart from those of its competitors.
  • But current and former reservation-holders for the roof tiles, known as the Solar Roof, say they’ve been kept in the dark about when they will get them.
  • The Solar Roof’s rollout has been delayed by aesthetic issues and durability testing.
  • Musk said Tesla was installing the Solar Roof in eight states, but the company has not disclosed the number of Solar Roofs that have been delivered.

Those bullet points that start the article tell the whole story, though the interviews with customers (one who canceled his order, and one who is still on the waiting list) are interesting.

Another Tesla Up In Flames

No accident required. New Tesla Fire Manifests in Belgium.

A Tesla Model S suffered a total meltdown after being connected to one of the company’s proprietary Supercharger stations in Antwerp, Belgium. While details are scant, local reports state the driver simply went to charge his automobile and returned to a burning wreck a short time later.

Considering the fire department had to totally submerge the ruined vehicle in a pool of water to ensure the car didn’t reignite, the odds of uncovering exactly what went wrong appear slim.

The odds of a fire are not better or worse right now for Tesla vs gas-powered cars, but the lithium-ion tendency to ignite needs to be addressed. Some folks are looking at nickle-metal hydride, but they aren’t quite ready for prime-time either. The string of bad press in Tesla’s corner however, isn’t to be sneezed at.

Tesla and SolarCity

The Tesla fanboys were so sure that this merger was going to change the face of power generation. Didn’t really work out that way. MIT Technology Review: Tesla’s trumpeted solar shingles are a flop.

But then I’ve always believed that Tesla (and Musk) were “all hat and no cattle” when it came to solar. For a couple of reasons.

The first is tied up with the reality of what has happened since the merger.

In the more than two years since Tesla acquired SolarCity, its overall solar installations have plummeted by more than 76%.

A Tesla spokesperson told Reuters it’s “actively installing” the Solar Roof product in eight states but declined to discuss its purchases from Panasonic or provide overall installation numbers.

At least they seem to have learned the lesson from the SEC: Don’t embellish the truth.

Those numbers aren’t really a surprise, given the state of SolarCity before the merger. Elon Musk just kicked his shareholders in the teeth. (This is from Business Insider in 2016.)

Now, in case you haven’t been following the SolarCity story, it’s the company that, a few minutes before this deal was announced, Goldman Sachs said was the “worst positioned” for growth in its sector.

So why would someone with no real experience in a business-turnaround capacity, buy such a company? It may only be a coincidence…

It’s also a company that is helmed by Elon Musk’s cousin, Lyndon Rive. Go figure.

Though the stock was down 60% in the year before the merger was announced. Maybe he thought it looked cheap.

Back to the MIT article linked at the top. It looks like Tesla won’t meet the employment numbers it committed to at its “gigafactory” to avoid the penalties inherent in that deal. Though they have another year to get there.

Last year, Tesla ended its months-old retail partnership with Home Depot, and shuttered a number of solar installation facilities. It’s reportedly cut thousands of workers in its solar division since the acquisition. The team also faced difficulties with the appearance and performance of the Solar Roof tiles.

A Bloomberg article late last year said Tesla was operating just one production line at the Buffalo factory, rather than the multiple lines that were supposed to be running at that stage.

And then there is the little issue of actually having a product to sell.

The team also faced difficulties with the appearance and performance of the Solar Roof tiles.

The other reason I always thought Tesla’s move into solar was a joke? (This is not covered in either article.) Musk talked about using his very expensive, lightweight lithium-ion battery technology in homes and businesses. In your phone you want a light battery. In a car you also want to reduce weight. In a building that doesn’t move, why is weight an issue? (Hint: It’s NOT.) In a building that doesn’t move, the issues are cost, life-span, and durability. Long-lasting, cheap batteries, that don’t have a tendency to catch on fire are most desirable. Most homes that rely on solar get by with good old-fashioned lead acid batteries. (Invest in the automatic watering setup!) Want to take a step up? Then there are Nickel-iron batteries. There are also Lithium-iron batteries, which are not lightweight, and not sold by Tesla, that some industrial applications use for backup. (Think cellphone towers in remote locations.) None of those examples move, so weight – critical in applications that specify lithium ion batteries – is basically ignored.

Remember When Tesla Was Going to Sell Solar Stuff at Home Depot?

Someone (aside from me) used the term “liquidation.” Tesla’s Firesale Of Its Solar Inventory Begins.

Back in February 2018, the company said it would sell panels in 800 Home Depot stores – that idea lasted until June, only 4 months later, when they ended the partnership.

There there was other bit of marketing hype.

The solar roof shingles that Tesla pitched to the public about 2 years ago have also not come to fruition yet.

Maybe

I’ve said it many times. We pay for expensive, lightweight batteries for your home. Your home doesn’t move. For your car, weight is important, or your phone Lithium ion batteries make sense. When they don’t need to move, or fit in your pocket, not so much. For a fixed installation, you want them to be relatively cheap, reliable.

Tesla Motors, Hackers and “Autopilot”

Calling it “Autopilot” was probably a marketing overreach. Tesla Stock Drops after Chinese Hackers Expose Alarming Vulnerability.

This isn’t the most informative of the articles, but it has enough info to be going on with.

China hackers set their sights on Tesla to expose just how easy it was to manipulate the Model S. Not only were they able to trick the autopilot systems of the luxury vehicles, but they’ve been able to access them remotely.

The cars can be in driving or parking mode.

“successfully implemented remote, aka none physical contact, control on Tesla Model S in both parking and driving modes.”

Tesla’s Entertainment System Hacked

I was sort of hoping that the Tesla’s main system would have been hacked as well. Tesla Model 3 Hacked on the Last Day of Pwn2Own. But the team working on that withdrew on the last day.

During the last day, Fluoroacetate’s Amat Cama and Richard Zhu successfully targeted and successfully hacked their way into a Tesla Model 3’s Chromium-based infotainment system as part of their automotive category demo, using “a JIT bug in the renderer to display their message.”

That won them 35,000 dollars and the Tesla 3 they were hacking.

Day three was also supposed to be the day when Team KunnaPwn playing field, with an attempt at hacking the “VCSEC component of the Tesla Model 3 in the automotive category” but they withdrew from the competition.

That doesn’t mean the car can’t be hacked, it just means that 3 days was not enough time. Though it may mean that the car is secure. (Any bets?)

Is Tesla Seeing an Increase in Workplace Accidents?

I couldn’t find anything about this in the US media. Krankenstand unter Tesla-Mitarbeitern hat sich binnen Jahresfrist verdreifacht – OR – sick leave among Tesla employees has tripled within a year.

And yes, it is in German, but Google Translate will do a fair job with German. (Chrome will – or can anyway – invoke it automatically.)

The sharp increase in absenteeism indicates that more serious accidents are occurring, says Deborah Berkowitz. She headed the [OSHA] under President Barack Obama and calls the number “alarming”. It is worrying that the average absence has risen from 35 to 66 days.

Tesla denies the conclusion, and to their credit, while employment and hours have increased, the number of accidents per hour-worked has remained fairly constant. Which isn’t great, but isn’t horrible. And considering they are spending millions on “safety” really isn’t good.

I, for one, welcome our self-driving overlords

Ain’t technology wonderful. (The title to this post is stolen shamelessly from Small Dead Animals, a link can be found in the sidebar.) ‘Autopilot’-ed Tesla Crashes Off NJ Highway, Driver Reportedly Unable To Regain Control Of Vehicle.

Yet another example came to light on Monday when a driver in North Brunswick, New Jersey wrecked his Tesla on a highway while the vehicle was in Autopilot mode. According to a report published by News 12 New Jersey, the driver said that the vehicle “got confused due to the lane markings” at a point where the driver could have stayed on the highway or taken an exit. The driver claims that Autopilot split the difference and went down “the middle”, between the exit and staying on the highway.

The car then drove off the road and collided with several objects before coming to a stop. The driver claims that he tried to regain control of the vehicle but that “it would not let him”.

This crash reminds me of the one that happened in Mountain View, California in March of last year. (Hat tip to Borepatch.)

Tesla, Thermal Runaway, and Negligence

This started with an article over at The Silicon Graybeard, which was of interest to the geeks who love all things tech. (Which includes me!) It was on the problem of Thermal Runaway in lithium ion batteries. And they are a problem.

As the number of electric vehicles continues to grow, the number of fires is going up. I did a piece about burning Teslas five years ago, in February of ’14. At that time, Tesla seemed to have a catastrophic fire rate of about 1 in 4000 cars. For perspective, at the same time, GM had just recalled 370,000 of their GMC Sierra pickups for a software fix that had caused eight fires, or 1 in 46,250, less than 1/10 the electric Tesla’s rate.

This prompted a search, which was going to try and get better numbers on Tesla and the current state of affairs. (I may still keep looking for that, and if I find it, I will post it somewhere.) But instead I tripped over something I missed. Since I don’t have any connection to the CNN, MSNBC, EIEIO 24-hour-news, I don’t know if this got much coverage. Though my guess is any coverage was drowned out under “Oh, my God, the .gov is shut down!” or “Russia, Russia, Russia!” Teens burned to death after 116 mph crash. Lawsuit blames Tesla for the speed and fire.

Now ordinarily I wouldn’t think they would have much of a chance with the lawsuit, but then there is this.

The suit presents James and Jenny Riley, Barrett’s parents, and the Montserratts as victims of Tesla negligence. Three days after Barrett Riley got ticketed for zooming the Tesla at 112 mph through a 50-mph zone on March 3, the suit claims, the Rileys had Tesla mechanics install a device that put an 85-mph limit on the car’s speed.

But when the car was serviced from March 29 through April 3 at Tesla’s Bahia Beach Broward County service center, Tesla mechanics “improperly removed the speed limiter/governor without the permission and consent of” the Rileys, the suit says.

Oops. Of course it is Beyond the Pale to assume that parents would actually do some parenting and take the keys away from the kid. Get them a Trabant, They couldn’t go 50 MPH. Or an early VW, though both of those lack any safety equipment. And I do mean Any. (My dad had a VW bus, that was lucky to go 45 MPH.) But then that wouldn’t fit with the whole Aventura, FL scene. I could barely afford to park my car in Aventura, not that there was much reason to go there. I seem to remember a decent deli. (Real NY pastrami.)

The thermal runaway connection? The batteries caught fire in the crash, and were nearly impossible to douse.

“The two battery packs in the car contain hundreds of small batteries that power everything on the car,” Corboy said. “If one of the batteries catches fire, every battery around it catches fire in short order.”

And an electrical fire burns differently from a gasoline or oil fire. Water and foam do not knock the fire out. As the NTSB report says, after using 200 to 300 gallons of water and foam in an attempt to extinguish the burning car, the battery blazed up again on the tow truck. It rose again in the storage yard, requiring fire rescue workers to put it out.

The current state of battery technology is almost good enough. The trouble is, in order to pack in enough battery power to try to make the range acceptable, given the hours-long recharging time, engineers have to leave out all that bulky fire-suppression material.

Elon Musk vs SEC

That’s gonna leave a mark. SEC’s Musk Lawsuit Highlights Dangers of Social Media Disclosures.

So Musk tweeted that he had funding to take Tesla Motors private. Turns out, maybe not. The SEC sued for stock manipulation.

The SEC is seeking civil penalties and asked the court to bar Mr. Musk from being an officer or director of a public company. Mr. Musk called the suit unjustified and said he has always taken action “in the best interests of truth, transparency and investors.” Tesla and its board said Thursday in a joint statement they are fully confident in Mr. Musk.

Tesla stock fell 9.9% in after-hours trading. (Hat tip – Watts Up With That)

Tesla Motors’ Cars Can Be Hacked?!

Color me shocked. Tesla’s keyless entry vulnerable to spoofing attack, researchers find: Now is a good time to add a PIN code to your Tesla.

Last week’s Tesla security update may have been more urgent than the company let on. Researchers at KU Leuven have figured out a way to spoof Tesla’s key fob system, as first reported by Wired. The result would let an attacker steal a Tesla simply by walking past the owner and cloning his key.

The attack is particularly significant because Tesla pioneered the keyless entry concept, which has since spread to most luxury cars.

KU Leuven university is in Belgium.

If the door locks and the ignition lock is not secure, does anyone want to take bets on the rest of the computer control being secure?

Keys – especially automotive keys – aren’t always the best security, but this is insane.