Two Texan men have died after their vehicle crashed into a tree, the BBC has reported. Both in their 50s, the men were driving a Tesla Model S when they crashed at high speed and the car subsequently caught fire.
The individuals were found in the front passenger seat and the back of the vehicle, indicating that “no-one was driving the vehicle at the time of the impact”, according to Mark Herman, Harris Country Precinct 4 constable.
The case remains under investigation and there is uncertainty over whether Tesla’s Autopilot feature was in use.
Tesla’s autopilot system can be understood as semi-autonomous, sitting around Level 2 autonomy.
According to the Guidelines from the Society of Automotive Engineers, there are five levels of automation in total.
Level 2 involves the automation of two or more elements. Computers take over multiple functions from the driver and can weave both speed and steering systems together using multiple data sources.
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Progression to Level 3 involves all aspects of the driving completed autonomously, but the driver must still be present to respond to any request to intervene.
According to a series of emails between Tesla and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the firm admitted its autosteer technology was no more than Level 2, despite previous claims that the car was completely self-driving.
Such claims have been deemed potentially misleading and could lead to fatal accidents such as the case in question.
Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk, also claimed that the self-driving technology would reach Level 5 by the end of 2021, suggesting the vehicles will be able to self-drive anywhere, due to the frequency and volume of data, and the sophistication of computer systems.
According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Automotive Consumer Study, public perception regarding the safety of AVs has remained split, with many consumers expressing concerns.
Tony Han, chief executive of smart mobility company WeRide, said: “These concerns oscillate a lot. It’s a very complicated social and psychological issue, in which one accident could tip the view of all of society. All autonomous driving firms must keep safety at the forefront during development and across all operations.”