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

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

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

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
No. 1-25
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.

Rdog17
Rdog17

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

Wagner__
Wagner__

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

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.

stillCJ
stillCJ

Editor

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

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