MobilEye, the Israeli tech company that makes the camera and computer system for the Tesla Autopilot system, announced a few months ago that it and Tesla were going their separate ways. Since then, it has forged a new alliance with Delphi, one of the largest global suppliers to the automotive business, to make autonomous driving systems.
While neither company had much to say publicly at the time, MobilEye broke its silence. In a statement on Friday, it said its chairman, Amnon Shashua, raised concerns with Tesla in May of 2015 — 6 months before the Autopilot system was activated. Shashua reportedly warned Elon Musk personally not to allow Autopilot to operate without a hand on the wheel. It further says Musk assured Shashua that Autopilot would in fact be “hands on.” But the system Tesla rolled out in the fall allowed drivers to remove their hands from the wheel for extended periods of time under certain circumstances while the cars took control of steering and other vital functions.
Tesla said later on Friday that the version of the story told by Mobileye is inaccurate and stems from Tesla’s plans to develop its own vision system. When Tesla refused to stop development, Mobileye stopped support on future work “and released public statements implying that this discontinuance was motived by safety concerns.” Mobileye says it made “substantial efforts” to take more control of the Tesla project, but the two companies could not reach agreement.
Musk watchers will remember that he made an unannounced visit to MobilEye headquarters last spring. At the time, it was assumed the trip was a prelude to a major upgrade to the system, but it actually seems to have marked the beginning of the end of the business relationship between the two companies.
All of this dissension centers around the fatal accident in Florida that took the life of Joshua Brown last May. Tesla says the camera in Brown’s car failed to detect a tractor trailer crossing the road and hinted that it might have been blinded by sunshine reflecting off the side of the white trailer. Mobileye says its system was never designed to spot cross traffic but doesn’t know if Tesla modified the system. Next week, Tesla says it will unveil a new version of the software for the Autopilot system that will rely much more on input from radar sensors and less on images from cameras.
The implication is that radar would not have allowed itself to be blinded by sunlight. Although no legal action has been filed against Tesla as a result of Brown’s death, it is possible the two companies are jockeying for an advantage in the event they need to defend their actions in court sometime in the future. If a lawsuit is brought, expect the finger pointing between the two companies to increase dramatically.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the crash that killed Joshua Brown. Neither has completed its investigation at this time.
Musk is the driving force behind the Autopilot system and he can be intractable when confronted with opposition. Several people who have participated in development of the system report they raised objections about its safety, but their concerns were overridded by Musk. Raj Rajkumar, an autonomous car researcher at Carnegie Mellon tells CNN the Tesla employees he meets at conferences and trade shows say “it’s an understatement to say [Tesla] is hyper-aggressive.” They report they have to override their concerns because the push to get the software into the hands of the public is so strong.
Musk is completely unfazed by such criticism. Whether it is oppostion to falcon wing doors for the Model X or criticism of his plan to have Tesla Motors buy SolarCity, it is his way or the highway. He may be a visionary, but he also may not be the nicest person to work for. Whether his fierce determination to have things his own way will come back to haunt him in the future remains to be seen.
So far, he has taken a small start-up company and turned it into a force that strikes terror into the hearts of automotive industry executives worldwide. Maybe hubris is the catalyst the world needs to finally break its dependence on fossil fuels. That’s exactly what Musk is hoping to accomplish and that is not a task for the faint of heart.
Source: Associated Press