With the upcoming Autopilot improvements through radar processing in Tesla software v8.0 update, CEO Elon Musk sees a 3x potential increase in safety. Musk said that the data already suggests a 50% reduction in the probability of having an accident when using Autopilot versus manual driving, but the new radar processing technology could do much better over time with Tesla’s fleet learning capability.
While such a significant factor of improvement is an incredible achievement with the potential of saving lives, Musk made the distinction between “achieving perfect safety” and “improving the probability of safety” – adding that the former is impossible and that the latter is what the Autopilot is achieving:
“I want to emphasize: this does not mean perfect safety. Perfect safety is really an impossible goal. It’s really about improving the probability of safety – that’s the only thing possible. As you approach the law of large numbers, it becomes more and more applicable. I think we have 160,000 cars or something like that, soon 200,000 cars, and eventually, we will have million of cars traveling billion of miles per year.
Even if something is only for one in billion chance, there will never be zero fatalities, there will never be zero injuries.”
The conversation came back to the fatal accident on Autopilot in Florida back in May. Musk added that he believes the new update would have prevented the death of Joshua Brown. The current version of the Autopilot, the one Brown had in his Model S, was using the radar only has a supplement to the front-facing camera and image processing because Tesla wasn’t confident in the radar processing capability in detecting false positive – primarily triggered by overpasses and large over-the-road signs.
Therefore, even if the radar on Brown’s Model S detected an object (truck in which it crashed), the radar inputs wouldn’t have been taken it into account in fear of a false negative triggering unnecessary braking.
With the new radar processing system in v8.0, Tesla will use fleet-learning to whitelist radar detected objects like those and trigger an emergency braking event based on radar inputs. At the very least, it would have increased the chance of Tesla’s emergency braking kicking in and reducing the velocity of the impact in the case of Brown’s accident.
Despite Brown’s tragic death, Musk emphasized that the Autopilot is still safer than average manual driving. He said that Tesla’s fleet now drove over 200 million miles on Autopilot with only one confirmed death. On the other hand, one person dies on US roads for every 89 million miles.
Tesla now adds ~1.5 million Autopilot miles per day. The new data added to Tesla’s fleet learning capacity every day is what will enable a 3x improvement in safety, according to Musk.