Another Tesla Up in Flames: Spotlight on Speed Limits and Batteries

Mike Mish Shedlock

Another Tesla crash and Another Tesla Death.

It's pretty clear from the image no one could have survived that crash which occurred when a Tesla burst into flames after crashing on the A2 highway near the town of Bellinzona, Switzerland killing a 48-year-old German driver who was trapped inside.

The image is from a translated Facebook page.

Tesla's autopilot feature is already under scrutiny following previous fatal crashes.

Last week, a driver and two Ft. Lauderdale passengers were killed in a Tesla crash. ​

The car was modified to not go over 85MPH after one of the teens was given a ticket for driving 112 MPH.

Tesla Slams Into Parked Fire Truck

Even if one writes that off the Florida fatality as driver error, it's difficult to explain this: Tesla slams into fire truck stopped at red light in Utah.

Police estimate the car was going about 60 MPH. The driver says the car was on autopilot.

Thermal Runway

The feature image noted the possibility of a "Thermal Runway" involving lithium ion batteries.

The subject came up back in March regarding The Problem With Stowing Lithium-Ion Batteries on Planes.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that laptops and other large electronic devices won't be allowed in the passenger cabins of nonstop flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. The move is in response to intelligence reports that terrorists are looking for new ways to place explosives in electronic devices on airplanes.

Passengers on these flights will now be required to pack devices in their checked luggage. Yet because the lithium-ion batteries in laptops occasionally—though rarely—burst into flames, the new rule raises the question: Is it dangerous to store hundreds of laptops in suitcases in the hold of an airplane?

“There’s a balance here,” says John Cox, a former pilot and CEO of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation consulting firm.

“If you have a cargo hold with numerous lithium batteries, once one goes and starts that heating process, it can propagate to further devices,” Cox says. “You have this reignition.”

“Lithium-ion batteries are a known safety risk,” says Karen Walker, editor-in-chief of Air Transport World, an airline industry trade publication. “If they catch fire, it’s a very intense heat. And fire and aircraft don’t mix very well.”

Last year the FAA warned that transporting pallets of lithium-ion or nonrechargeable lithium-metal batteries in the cargo holds of planes could cause a “catastrophic explosion” if a single cell were to catch fire. Although stopping short of an outright ban, the agency warned against packing large numbers of batteries together—because of the dangers of thermal runaway—and cautioned that the batteries should be kept separated from other hazardous materials.

Unable to See Stopped Firetruck

Wired explains WHY TESLA'S AUTOPILOT CAN'T SEE A STOPPED FIRETRUCK.

A Tesla Model S slammed into the back of a stopped firetruck on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles County. The driver apparently told the fire department the car was in Autopilot mode at the time. The crash highlighted the shortcomings of the increasingly common semi-autonomous systems that let cars drive themselves in limited conditions.

This surprisingly non-deadly debacle also raises a technical question: How is it possible that one of the most advanced driving systems on the planet doesn't see a freaking fire truck, dead ahead?

Tesla didn't confirm the car was running Autopilot at the time of the crash, but its manual does warn that the system is ill-equipped to handle this exact sort of situation: “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control cannot detect all objects and may not brake/decelerate for stationary vehicles, especially in situations when you are driving over 50 mph (80 km/h) and a vehicle you are following moves out of your driving path and a stationary vehicle or object is in front of you instead.”

Volvo's semi-autonomous system, Pilot Assist, has the same shortcoming. Say the car in front of the Volvo changes lanes or turns off the road, leaving nothing between the Volvo and a stopped car. "Pilot Assist will ignore the stationary vehicle and instead accelerate to the stored speed," Volvo's manual reads, meaning the cruise speed the driver punched in. "The driver must then intervene and apply the brakes.” In other words, your Volvo won't brake to avoid hitting a stopped car that suddenly appears up ahead. It might even accelerate towards it.

The same is true for any car currently equipped with adaptive cruise control, or automated emergency braking. It sounds like a glaring flaw, the kind of horrible mistake engineers race to eliminate. Nope. These systems are designed to ignore static obstacles because otherwise, they couldn't work at all.

Recognizing Speed Limits

Note that Tesla reads speed signs but it cannot reliably detect them.

Comment One: My understanding is AP1 visually identifies speed signs, but can screw up (reported that our highway 80 is misread as 80 mph). AP2 uses the GPS database for speed, and is accurate in most areas, but wrong in a few cases. Nether system is perfect. In 1 year with my AP2 S, I've never seen a GPS speed limit sign error (local streets and freeways), but other owners have reported issues with the database (i.e. wrong speed on a road). It may also depend if your in a rural area or in a non-USA country as to which method works better.

Comment Two: My AP1 car has interpreted a 35 mph sign as an 85 mph sign.

Comment Three: AP1 for me was much more accurate than has been AP2. At first, AP1 had problems with school zone signs, but they fixed that. AP1's camera-based approach both recognized and reacted to physical speed limit signs. Another challenge, which I believe in part gave us the AP2 approach, is if a big truck is between you and a new speed limit sign. AP2 relies upon an error-ridden database for speed limits. It's wrong a dozen times in a 10-mile radius here in SoCal and where it really gets fun is when it misses a zone in some rural area and then you're stuck at, say, 10 mph below the limit (using AS) for however many miles until it updates in a new zone.

Comment Four: Middle of last year, Tesla changed providers for the speed limit data. Since then, at least for AP2 cars, the speed limit data has been much worse - and I haven't noticed any improvements since then. On a surface street near our house, the posted speed limit is 35 MPH. The speed limit database believes it is 55 MPH. So if I engage TACC to automatically set the speed, it immediately tries to get up to 60 MPH.

Tesla, Volvo Not Ready for Prime Time

Unlike Waymo which is armed with a full array of sensors and radar, Tesla's half-measure adaptive technologies are simply not ready for prime time.

Instead, such features lure drivers into a false sense of security.

What a mess!

How long will people keep buying these death traps?

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (26)
No. 1-26
JonSellers
JonSellers

A few thoughts: I believe the term is "thermal runaway" not "thermal runway". I'm also quite certain li-ion batteries don't catch on fire unless they're actively in use. I've also read that one of the big cost factors with EVs is having to put the electronics on every li-ion battery to tightly regulate charging and discharge to avoid the thermal runaway problem.

JonSellers
JonSellers

Secondly, Elon Musk should be convicted for murder for selling these vehicles to an unsuspecting public that has nowhere near the understanding necessary to drive these vehicles in Autopilot mode. Waymo knows better than to just let these vehicles roam around the country. Waymo tightly controls the locations their vehicles travel as well as the speeds. This is still a very speculative technology.

Wagner-
Wagner-

Yawn. Cars can crash and catch on fire? NO WAY!

Open browser, go to Google and search for "Porsche catches Fire" and go to "News" section. I see an article on Apr 18, 2018; Mar 16, 2018 ...

Blurtman
Blurtman

Nothing that a creative marketing campaign can’t fix. Appealing to thrill seekers, suicidals and macho types. Leaving Tesla’s unattended in high crime areas could reduce the backlog in criminal court cases.

Snow_Dog
Snow_Dog

https://youtu.be/ZsWWoKjdydE

These cars could come in handy the next time the CIA wants someone to back off their investigation of higher ups.

Wagner-
Wagner-

When was last time Tesla caught fire while charging? Oh wait, Tesla is ahead competition that is still stuck using impractical LiFePO4 packs or super small Li-Pol packs in conjunction to ICE. Or outsorcing everything.

Tesla's "EV skateboard" is still years ahead other "EV skateboards".

Mish does not know how Nikola 320KWh battery pack will perform in similar crash, but already
proclaimed it "the solution".

cecilhenry
cecilhenry

These cars surely can't be on the road if these are the problems/ Gross irresponsibility to allow this. Back to the test tracks for a few more years of testing. Put some damn fire trucks in it.

Greggg
Greggg

These problems will be a thing of the past very soon. Censorship is picking up speed faster than a lithium powered rocket.

AWC
AWC

Where's Ralph Nader when ya need him. "Unsafe at any Speed." Looks like a Corvair re-do.

AWC
AWC

Imagine the toxins
emitted by burning these things?

AWC
AWC

Forgot. The carbon credits offset that.

Wagner$
Wagner$

Timeouts and censorship does not work. You should know this better @Mish.

Here is the quote you made:

Anheuser Busch will convert 100% of its dedicated fleet to sustainable sources by 2025. Nikola is the solution.

CzarChasm-Reigns
CzarChasm-Reigns

Death Trap Fire Sale - Get 'em while they're hot!!!

stillCJ
stillCJ

Editor

The TSLA shorts might finally have their turn. I heard it is the most shorted stock on the street. Elon is going to be pissed, but how much of his own stock can he buy? And, what interest rate will he have to offer on his next bond offer?

Mike Mish Shedlock
Mike Mish Shedlock

Editor

Nikola was Bush's Solution - Not MINE

Mike Mish Shedlock
Mike Mish Shedlock

Editor

I do not promote Hydrogen as THE solution. It could be. I promote the free market, not government making the choice, as I said

stillCJ
stillCJ

Editor

Just found this graph on wikipedia that indicates that the more business Tesla does, the more money it loses: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla,_Inc.#/media/File:Tesla_Financial_Performance.svg Elon seems to have a lot of interesting ideas but I question his ability as a businessman. Personally, I would like to buy a hydrogen fueled vehicle. I can fill a hydrogen fuel tank in my garage using energy from my solar panels to separate it from water.

stillCJ
stillCJ

Editor

"Death Trap Fire Sale - Get 'em while they're hot!!!" Ooh, bad pun!

KidHorn
KidHorn

Not to sound crass, but anyone dumb enough to let a car drive itself down a freeway is asking for it. If I had a car that could do that, I might try it out for a few seconds if there were no other cars on the road. But, no way would I trust it with my life.

Wagner__
Wagner__

Can you write in less ambigous way so that your readers don't misinterpret you when you announce something as "the solution"?

Rdog17
Rdog17

Just read your Nikolo article Mish... It was pretty clear... your closing statement was 'The Market will sort this out'.

Wagner__
Wagner__

"The market will sort this out" is libertarian way to whine about pure EVs, because there is some sort of conspiracy going on.


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