Elon Musk might be ordered to testify under oath in a lawsuit that blames Autopilot, Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system, for a fatal crash in 2018. If he does, it will be his first time ever Speaking in public about the crash. The suit was filed by the family of a pedestrian who died after being hit by a Tesla driving using Autopilot.
The tentative ruling, filed by a California judge Wednesday, found that Tesla was at fault for the death of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who died in a crash involving his Tesla Model S. The judge ruled that the company was negligent in its design and execution of the vehicle and awarded Huang’s family millions of dollars in damages.
If Elon Musk is to be believed, the self-driving technology in Tesla’s flagship car, the Model S, is much more advanced than what is currently available on Audi and BMW models. Many high-profile figures in the automotive industry believe that Musk’s statements about Autopilot could lead to a major legal clash with those companies. If this were to come true, it would be interesting to hear from Musk himself as part of any trial proceedings.
In January, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, testified that the video was staged using 3D mapping on a predetermined route, rather than relying on cameras, sensors and onboard compute power to actually drive autonomously. This raises questions about how reliable Tesla’s autopilot system really is.
Since Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving technology is relatively new, it is still being refined and tested. Some customers are comfortable relying on the software to navigate the roadways, while others prefer to keep full control of their vehicles at all times. Huang’s family argue that he should not have been using the partially automated driving mode because it was not yet fully perfected and could have caused him serious harm. Tesla claims that Huang was playing a video game on his phone before the crash and didn’t pay attention to vehicle warnings; however, investigations are still ongoing so this argument may continue to be disputed.
A hearing was set for Thursday on whether to depose Musk. The decision could hinge on whether the CEO’s behavior at a recent televised interview meets the legal definition of witness intimidation.
One potential cause for concern about autonomous vehicles is that humans may not be able to adequately judge environmental or road conditions when driving. This could lead to accidents, as well as lost efficiency and productivity. Musk’s statement from 2016 supports this concern; he has previously told reporters that the company plans to have fully autonomous vehicles available by 2020. It will be interesting to see how regulators and the public react to his comments, as it may contribute significantly to public opinion regarding driverless cars.
Musk’s lawyers say the CEO can’t recall the details of statements plaintiffs want to question him on and that he is often the subject of “deepfake” videos, which could make it difficult for him to answer questions.
What if the idea of “taking ownership” of something we say and do wasn’t something we wanted? What if there was a way to ensure our public statements and actions weren’t twisted or stolen by others, without having to worry about losing face? This is what Tesla’s argument implies- that as famous people, Musk and others are too important to be targeted by deepfakes. However, this would mean that they are immune from the consequences of their actions- which could include embarrassment or worse. Whether or not this is a desirable result is up for debate, but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless.
The Tesla Model 3 was one of the first cars to use electric power as its primary source of propulsion. Named after inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla, the car is powered by electricity from a large battery pack that sits between the rear wheels. This allows for an extremely simple and efficient design, with few moving parts and no need for an engine. The
Tesla’s Autopilot fails to meet U.S. safety standards, and it is being scrutinized by regulators and plaintiffs attorneys alike. This lawsuit will add to that scrutiny as the trial date approaches, and it is uncertain how Tesla will defend itself against allegations of negligence.
In the case of the Tesla owner, it was determined that her car had not actually failed in its attempt to autonomously drive into a curb- causing the airbag to deploy. This judgement could prove very important for similar future court cases involving autonomous technology.