For the first time, an autonomously driven vehicle, a model S Tesla, had a fatal crash. According to the manufacturer, the car hit a tractor trailer that crossed the highway where the car was traveling. Neither the autopilot, which was in charge, nor the driver, noticed “the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky“. In this difficult lighting conditions, the brakes were not applied and the car crashed into the trailer. The bottom of the trailer hit the windshield of the car, leading to the dead of its only occupant.
This was the first fatal accident to happen with and autonomous driven car, and it happened after Tesla Autopilot logged in 130 million miles. In the average, there is an accident for every 94 million miles driven, in the US, and 60 million miles, worldwide, according to Tesla.
It its statement, Tesla makes clear that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it.
Nonetheless, this crash is bound to be the first to raise significant questions, with very difficult answers. Who is to blame for the fact that the autopilot did not break the car, in order to avoid the impact?
The programmers, who coded the software that was driving the vehicle at the time of accident? The driver, who did not maintain control of the vehicle? The designers of the learning algorithms, used to derive significant parts of the control software? The system architects, who did not ensure that the Autopilot was just an “assist feature“?
As autonomous systems, in general, and autonomous cars, in particular, become more common, these questions will multiply and we will need to find answers for them. We may on the eve of a new golden age for trolleyology.