Tesla Car Takes Owner to the Hospital After He Has a Pulmonary Embolism

Monday, 08 August 2016 - 3:19PM
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Monday, 08 August 2016 - 3:19PM
Tesla Car Takes Owner to the Hospital After He Has a Pulmonary Embolism
Count this as a victory for self-driving vehicle technology. A Tesla self-driving car recently drove its owner to the hospital after he suffered a pulmonary embolism, and may have saved the man's life.

While traveling home to celebrate his daughter's fourth birthday, Joshua Neally was driving on the highway in Springfield, Missouri in his Tesla Model X when he experienced severe chest pains. After talking to his wife on the phone, he decided to put his car in autopilot mode rather than call an ambulance. He instructed his car to find a hospital, and it drove him 20 miles to the nearest ER. The doctors told him he was lucky to have survived.

To be fair, Tesla is not a strictly self-driving car, nor did it get Neally to the hospital on its own. Neally was conscious for the drive, and he says he manually drove the car into the car park and checked himself into the ER. Rather than billing it as an "autonomous" car, Tesla describes the autopilot mode as a "beta" feature, which allows them to steer, park, and change lanes automatically. 

But the feature has not been without controversy, especially since the tragic death of driver Joshua Brown in Florida, which occurred when his Tesla car failed to detect a tractor trailer in its path while in autopilot mode. Although Tesla has stated that the beta feature is only intended to be used in conjunction with a human driver, and is not intended for "hands-free" driving or autonomous driving, the incident sparked controversy, as the feature could encourage drivers to pay less attention while relying on them to react in an emergency.

In a statement after the incident, Tesla expressed their sympathies, but also insisted that the event didn't prove that the feature was unsafe. According to the company, Brown's death was the first fatality in 130 million miles, while the U.S. generally experiences a fatality every 94 million miles. 

Opening quote
As more real-world miles accumulate and the software logic accounts for increasingly rare events, the probability of injury will keep decreasing. Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.
Closing quote

The takeaway is, most likely, that neither isolated incident proves or disproves the safety of the feature, or of self-driving cars in general. But these cases do provide a window into both the potential benefits and drawbacks of self-driving technology, and we can probably count on the debate about the tech to rage on in the future.

Image credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

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