Following yesterday’s disclosure of the first known death in a Tesla Model S while using Autopilot, the driver of the truck which was struck implied the Tesla driver’s attention was diverted.
According to the Associated Press, the truck driver Frank Baressi, 62, who is the owner of Okemah Express LLC, said when he reached the destroyed Tesla, the audio track of a Harry Potter video was heard playing with no video portion evident.
“It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi said in an AP interview from his home in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Baressi’s truck was crossing a highway where there is no traffic light and the Model S careened into the trailer then reportedly proceeded further before crashing off the road.
The Model S is designed so playing a movie is impossible while the car is in motion. According to Elektrek, it could be possible for a mobile device to play a movie onscreen while the car is in motion, but the police report said Baressi made no mention of a movie playing at all.
CNBC however did report the highway patrol found a portable DVD player in the car.
“There was a portable DVD player in the vehicle,” said Sergeant Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol to Reuters. She added that no camera was found, mounted on the dash or of any kind, in the wrecked car.
The driver who died, Eric Brown, 40, of Canton Ohio, was the owner of a technology company and former Navy Seal. He posted videos of himself driving the car on Autopilot, and was praised by Tesla as a friend to the EV community.
While the Model S is designed so the video playback locks while driving, a hacker demonstrated early this year it can be unlocked with enough determination.
The hacker, called by the pseudonym Hemera, relayed in her blog how she was able to watch movies on the Model S’ 17-in screen while in motion.
“The car would make an amazing media center … The video player I’m using here is SMplayer. The performance was far better than I thought it would be, even with the wonky EGL and codec situation I’m currently in. Some details, this is running a Gentoo arm system, cross-compiled using a qemu-user chroot environment. Yes, that’s right, Gentoo, running on a Tesla. All those USE flags, CFLAGS, and optimizations are going to add speed to my car. My 5 second 0-60 will be faster than your 5 second 0-60!”
Brown posted a video briefly highlighting the benefits of the Autopilot system, and included his willingness to take hands off the wheel.
Another video by Brown credits the system with saving him from worse trouble.
Tesla Model S autopilot saved the car autonomously from a side collision from a boom lift truck. I was driving down the interstate and you can see the boom lift truck in question on the left side of the screen on a joining interstate road. Once the roads merged, the truck tried to get to the exit ramp on the right and never saw my Tesla. I actually wasn’t watching that direction and Tessy (the name of my car) was on duty with autopilot engaged. I became aware of the danger when Tessy alerted me with the “immediately take over” warning chime and the car swerving to the right to avoid the side collision.
There is no evidence however that Brown had hacked the Model S and whether the DVD player was tied in or not has yet to be announced by officials.
The car whose roof was sheared off by the underside of the semi’s trailer is being examined. If evidence that the car was hacked or otherwise playing a video can be found, Tesla would have motivation to find it to clear it of what is being called a first mark against its Autopilot safety record, and safety record in general.
“They have been touting their safety and they have been touting their advanced technology,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book to the AP. “This situation flies in the face of both.”
While the incident has ignited the media and public to focus in reaction to it, the Autopilot system was described as imperfect by Tesla, which would mean not failsafe.
Drivers are supposed to stay alert at all times, keep hands on the wheel, and not treat the car like a robo-car which will protect them from all potentialities.
As it is, charges are reportedly pending, eyes are on the issues, and this story is just now playing out.