While half of America went goo-goo, ga-ga over Uber's new self-driving taxis in Pittsburg, video unearthed on Chinese television of a fatal crash of a Tesla in Autopilot mode from the car's point of view exposed the true dangers of robot cars, as well as a major Tesla coverup.
Until yesterday, all America believed the first death from a car in self-driving mode took place in Florida in May when a Tesla in Autopilot crashed into a white semi-truck it mistook for sky. The Chinese video shows a grim January crash where the Tesla drives right into a street sweeper its camera and radar didn't see either.
If Tesla had made the public and safety regulators aware of the January Chinese wreck perhaps the Navy Seal who died in May, Joshua Brown, would be alive today.
Did Tesla even tell federal safety regulators about the China crash during their investigation of the Florida death? It's a question the company and government need to answer now.
If I were a Tesla investor I would have wanted to know too.
The video from China is so damning because it shows us one of the big problems with the robot cars: the cameras and radar cannot yet see what humans see.
These cars are not ready for the road, not in Philadelphia, not anywhere. Yet President Obama's Transportation safety experts are rushing industry-friendly guidance out any day to pave the way for the industry's priorities.
Consumer advocates have called for enforceable motor vehicle standards and a rule making process but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) head Mark Rosekind says he won't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
When it comes to highway safety, that's screwed. Particularly when Rosekind has refused to take vow not to work for the self-driving carmakers after he leaves his job, a revolving door that's led to four top former NHTSA officials heading the driverless car lobby's efforts with former colleagues like Rosalind.
President Obama needs to watch the video of the China crash and put the brakes on the runaway robot cars. There's time for thoughtful rules and debate. When we know more about the problems with Tesla's Autopilot from Chinese television than we do from Tesla and NHTSA it's clear that we cannot trust the company to develop this technology on a voluntary basis.
President Obama should shelve NHTSA's "guidance" or risks having blood on his hands when video of the next fatality surfaces.The public should weigh in with him now.
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