Elon Reeve Musk never fails to make it to the headlines for controversies and statements that await government and public scrutiny. This time it’s his electric vehicle company that gained the spotlight for an automatic software update.
Tesla is known for its new-age electric vehicles that redefine the way people perceive automobiles and luxury. While the company offers an infusion of technology and convenience, this time, it got highlighted for a software glitch and the mode of rectification.
October was not a great month for the company to be in the public eye. Tesla initiated a recall that automatically sent a software update to all its vehicles. This update was issued to fix a security problem in its electric cars.
But if it was to resolve an issue, then why did the action face national-level confrontation? What was the safety problem, and how did it get resolved? If you are looking for the answer to these questions, then this article is here to help.
What was the safety issue?
Tesla recalled over 11,704 cars that had a glitch in their “Full Self-Driving” software. This glitch would make the car stop for no reason. The paperwork by the company elaborates that this issue majorly affected the automatic emergency brakes of the electric vehicles. As a result, there would be a risk of other vehicles hitting the Tesla when the car stopped out of the blue due to the software bug in the full self-driving mode.
So what did Tesla do?
The company did take action on the issue once it was addressed. It issued a recall on all the vehicle software by sending an updated version to fix the safety issue.
The recall was subjected to four Tesla models, i.e., the S, X, Y, and 3. As per documents issued by the company, it sent a software update to the vehicles on the 23rd of October. This update highlighted the safety glitch in all four models.
Tesla started receiving complaints from the owners regarding phantom braking. The company claims that they canceled all further updates as soon as they received the complaints. It also sent software commands to restore the previous software version that disabled emergency braking on some models.
Miscommunication amidst the system
The company traced the roots of the issue, and it was revealed to be a communication issue between two computer chips of their system. The problem was discovered on the 24th of October, and on 25th, the company sent out software updates to rectify the issue. Tesla took a voluntary decision to conduct the recall on the 26th of October.
Other automakers must also use software technology to control and monitor safety issues. Tesla’s move suggested that the company is set to issue recalls for fixing safety issues as it pushed out software updates.
U.S Safety Regulator’s response to the recall
The regulators collectively sent a letter to Tesla and demanded information regarding the company’s delay in recalling its vehicles while it sent a software update. The update was anticipated to fix the issue related to the system of autopilot partially automated driving.
The update issued earlier was to detect the road parking of emergency vehicles. But the company’s technical crew sent a software response for crashes. The recall documents posted on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website did not address any other safety issue apart from parking detection.
The agency demanded that Tesla explain why it was not doing recalls for all the safety-related problems associated with the software. Even though the telling new software recall was an intelligent and swift decision, it caused a confrontation with U.S. safety regulators.
The role of NHTSA
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation in August after receiving reports of Teslas crashing into emergency vehicles. The investigation covered 765,000 cars, most of which belonged to Tesla and were sold in the United States since the onset of 2014. Over a dozen crashes were caused, out of which seventeen people faced severe injuries, and one got killed.
The NHTSA regulates the public recall initiated by automobile companies. A public recall is an action that allows the owners and technicians of the company to guarantee repairs. It ensures that people who buy cars from them are aware of the potential safety problems that can persist in the vehicle.
If the automobile companies and automakers do not issue the recalls promptly or their recalls are unable to rectify the issue, the NHTSA can impose fines. It overlooks the companies actions and ensures customer safety. NHTSA asked Tesla to explain why the autopilot update recall was not issued.
The NHTSA reported having an active conversation with Tesla. The agency is working to ensure that the company complies with all the guidelines and prerequisites of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Tesla had issued a software update in September, and it was intended to better the vehicle’s capability for detecting emergency vehicle lights in low-light scenarios. According to the NHTSA, Tesla was aware that the federal law demands automakers to issue a recall in case of safety deficiencies. The agency asked Tesla to publish information regarding its testing process and safety checks.
Some selected Tesla drivers beta-tested the ‘Full Self-Driving’ software on busy public roads. However, contrary to the marketing material of the ‘Full Self-Driving’ Teslas, the company states that the autopilot mode requires some driver assistance. Tesla stated that the car could not entirely drive itself, and the driver must always be aware and ready to intervene any moment the system acts up.
Pranjal Bora works as Web Development Lead at Digital Authority Partners, a full-service digital marketing agency.