Tesla sued in wrongful death lawsuit that alleges Autopilot caused crash

The family of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who died after his Tesla Model X with Autopilot engaged crashed into a highway median, is suing Tesla. The State of California Department of Transportation is also named in the lawsuit.

The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in in California Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, alleges that errors by Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system caused the crash that killed Huang on March 23, 2018. Huang, who was 38, died when his 2017 Tesla Model X hit a highway barrier on Highway 101 in Mountain View, California.

The lawsuit alleges that Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system misread lane lines, failed to detect the concrete media, failed to brake and instead accelerated into the median.

A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“Mrs. Huang lost her husband, and two children lost their father because Tesla is beta testing its Autopilot software on live drivers,” B. Mark  Fong, a partner at law firm Minami Tamaki said in a statement.

Other allegations against Tesla include product liability, defective product design, failure to warn, breach of warranty, intentional and negligent misrepresentation and false advertising. California DOT is also named in the lawsuit because the concrete highway median that Huang’s vehicle struck was missing its crash attenuator guard, according to the filing. Caltrans failed to replace the guard after an earlier crash there, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit aims to “ensure the technology behind semi-autonomous cars is safe before it is released on the roads, and its risks are not withheld or misrepresented to the public,” said Doris Cheng, a partner at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, who is also representing the family.

In the days following the crash, Tesla released two blog posts and ended up scuffling with the National Transportation Safety Board, which had sent investigators to the crash scene.

Tesla’s March 30 blog post acknowledged Autopilot had been engaged at the time of the crash. Tesla said the driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision.

Those comments prompted a response from the NTSB, which indicated it was “unhappy with the release of investigative information by Tesla.” The NTSB requires companies who are a party to an agency accident investigation to not release details about the incident to the public without approval.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk would soon chime in via Twitter to express his own disappointment and criticism of the NTSB.

Three weeks after the crash, Tesla issued a statement placing the blame on Huang and denying moral or legal liability for the crash.

“According to the family, Mr. Huang was well aware that Autopilot was not perfect and, specifically, he told them it was not reliable in that exact location, yet he nonetheless engaged Autopilot at that location. The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so.”

The relationship between NTSB and Tesla would disintegrate further following the statement. Tesla said it withdrew from its party agreement with the NTSB. Within a day, NTSB claimed that it had removed Tesla as a party to its crash investigation.

A preliminary report from the NTSB didn’t make any conclusions of what caused the crash. But it did find that the vehicle accelerated from 62 mph to 70.8 mph in the final three seconds before impact and moved left as it approached the paved gore area dividing the main travel lane of 101 and Highway 85 exit ramp.

The report also found that in the 18 minutes and 55 seconds prior to impact, the Tesla provided two visual alerts and one auditory alert for the driver to place his hands on the steering wheel. The alerts were made more than 15 minutes before the crash.

Huang’s hands were detected on the steering wheel only 34 seconds during the last minute before impact. No pre-crash braking or evasive steering movement was detected, the report said.

The case is Sz Hua Huang et al v. Tesla Inc., The State of California, no. 19CV346663.

 

Tesla ‘Dog mode’ and ‘Sentry mode’ are now live to guard your car and pets

Tesla has officially released two features for its electric vehicles aimed at protecting what owners love: their car and pets, as the company looks to leverage its ability to deliver a continuous stream of new capabilities via over-the-air software updates.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been tweeting about these two features, known as Dog mode and Sentry mode for weeks. And now, they’re here for electric vehicles equipped with Enhanced Autopilot and built after August 2017.

Dog mode is meant to accomplish two things: keep dogs, or perhaps a hamster or cat, in a climate-controlled environment, if left unattended in a vehicle, and let passersby know their status.

This should be confused with Tesla’s Cabin Overheat Prevention feature, which when active, “prevents the interior temperature from exceeding 105F/40C for up to 12 hours after you exit your vehicle.”

Dog Mode does — and should — allow for owners to adjust the temperature because cabin overheat protection shouldn’t be used if anyone is in the car — kids or pets.

To enable Dog Mode, owners tap the fan icon at the bottom of the touchscreen when their car is parked. Owners push “Keep Climate On to DOG, and then make adjustments within temperature limits. “Dog Mode will stay on after you leave your car. If you your battery reaches less than 20% charge, you will receive a notification on your mobile app,” according to the software update information.

The screen display is also new. In the video below, the screen shows the interior temperature of the vehicle and a message that reads “my owner will be back soon.”

Depending on state and local laws, it doesn’t matter if a dog is sitting in an air conditioned environment. And the feature could be abused or simply misused. Leaving animals unattended in vehicles for extended periods of time, even with the temperature controlled, is never a great idea, particularly in certain environments and seasons.

Sentry mode is a bit more involved. Tesla said in a blog post Wednesday that “Sentry mode” will continuously monitor the environment around a car when it’s left unattended.

When enabled, Sentry Mode enters a “Standby” state, like many home alarm systems, which uses the car’s external cameras to detect potential threats. If a minimal threat is detected, such as someone leaning on a car, Sentry Mode switches to an “Alert” state and displays a message on the touchscreen warning that its cameras are recording.

If a more severe threat is detected, such as someone breaking a window, Sentry Mode switches to an “Alarm” state, which activates the car alarm, increases the brightness of the center display, and plays music at maximum volume from the car’s audio system.

Owners will receive an alert on their Tesla app if the car switches to “alarm state,” according to the company. And because sentry mode taps into the built-in forward-facing cameras as a dash cam, owners can download a video recording of an incident. The downloadable recording begins 10 minutes prior to the time a threat was detected, Tesla said.

Sentry mode is rolling out Wednesday to U.S. Model 3 vehicles, followed by Model S and Model X vehicles that were built after August 2017.

In October, Tesla released version 9.0 of its software, which featured a number of updates, including a new UI on the center display and the ability to use the forward-facing camera. The dash cam feature is available only in Tesla vehicles built after August 2017.

Elon Musk says Tesla vehicles will soon get a ‘Sentry Mode’

Tesla owners may soon have a way to see (and record) damage that happens to their vehicles when they’re unattended.

Tesla will roll out “Tesla Sentry Mode” for all cars with Enhanced Autopilot, CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet Tuesday. Musk didn’t provide any more information about when this feature might be available and how it might work.

TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla for more details.

The name suggests that this feature would stand guard, so to speak, by either keeping the dash cam on while parked or having it automatically turn on if the car is hit or being tampered with. It could operate similar to aftermarket product Owl security camera; although, again, details are scant.

In October, Tesla released version 9.0 of its software, which featured a number of updates, including a new UI on the center display and the ability to use the built-in forward-facing cameras as a dash cam. The dash cam feature is available only in Tesla vehicles built after August 2017.

The dash cam feature currently lets owners record and store onto a USB flash drive video footage captured by their car’s forward-facing camera. Owners first must configure a USB flash drive in Windows or MS-DOS file architecture and add a base-level folder in the flash drive called TeslaCam. The configured USB flash drive can then be inserted into either one of the USB ports in the front of the vehicle. When properly configured, the dash cam icon pops up on the status bar with a red dot indicating that it is recording.

Owners can tap the icon to save a 10-minute video clip or press and hold to pause recording. Recordings that aren’t downloaded are automatically deleted.