Tesla Settles Autopilot Death Lawsuit Hours Before Trial Began

By automotive-mag.com 9 Min Read

If there’s one driver assistance feature that winds up in the news more than any other, it’s Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving. The polarizing partially-automated feature has struck the nerve of regulators and unwitting beta testers (or as they’re more commonly called, other road users), especially as some crashes have ended up at the desk of federal agencies and in courts.

Welcome to Critical Materials, your daily roundup for all things EV and automotive tech. Today, we discuss Tesla’s settlement of its most important Autopilot lawsuit to date, as well as the potential return of Cruise’s robotaxis. Plus, Ferrari’s thirsty for battery knowledge. Let’s jump in.

30%: Tesla Settles Autopilot Crash Case

Tesla has settled a lawsuit levied by the family of a 38-year-old former Apple engineer who was killed behind the wheel of his Model X while using Autopilot in 2018.

The decision came just before jury selection began on Monday, squashing the high-profile trial before it could be heard. Huang’s family had been waiting for this trial since filing the wrongful death suit in April 2019. Those familiar with the case expected it to last for weeks before a jury decision would be made. Instead, Tesla settled just hours before it began.

Huang was killed in 2018 after his Model X struck the unprotected edge of a highway median at 71 miles per hour. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash and found that Autopilot was engaged for more than 18 minutes before the crash. Moreover, the report noted that Autopilot “began a left steering movement” seven seconds before the crash and sped up, carrying the vehicle into the gore point of the highway where it would ultimately strike the concrete barrier.

A forensic examination of Huang’s phone revealed that a mobile game was open at the time of the accident. This led to a back-and-forth which drug Apple into the frontlines to prove whether or not Huang was playing a game when he should have been supervising the road. In a statement to Tesla, an Apple engineering manager said that telemetry data suggested “possible user interaction,” however, Huang’s family fought this finding as the NTSB also cited “limitations” in Tesla’s Autopilot software potentially contributing to the crash. Ultimately, the case was settled before it could go to trial.

 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched investigations into more than 950 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where Autopilot was claimed to be in use. It has also opened more than three dozen probes into crashes resulting in 23 deaths.

Terms of the settlement haven’t been made public and documents published by the court containing the agreed-upon amount have been redacted.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk previously claimed that Tesla would “never surrender/settle an unjust case against [Tesla]” even if it would “probably lose.” Tesla’s settlement with the Huang family appears to have no admission of guilt, however, this strong statement by the company’s CEO sends a rather damning message regarding the company’s partially-automated driving feature.

60%: Cruise Will Soon Resume Robotaxi Service in Arizona

20231107 - Cruise Origin

Scorned robotaxi provider Cruise is preparing to resume its services in select markets.

Sources familiar with the matter recently told Bloomberg that the company could announce its intentions to resume testing with safety drivers as early as this week. This comes after months of discussing the plans with officials in more than 20 metropolitan areas. This includes areas where the company had already begun mapping initiatives, or where it previously operated prior to suspending services in 2023.

One of the individuals familiar with Cruise’s plans claimed that Phoenix was a “natural place to start,” as Cruise already has its vehicles in the area given its previous relationship with the city. According to this person (who wished to remain anonymous), city officials were open to the idea of Cruise’s return.

A Crusie spokesperson issued the following statement to Bloomberg:

[Cruise has] not set a timeline for deployment. We are in the process of meeting with officials in select markets to gather information, share updates and rebuild trust.

The autonomous ride-hailing service halted operations across the U.S. following an accident involving a pedestrian last October. A Cruise-branded Chevy Bolt struck a jaywalking pedestrian that was thrown in front of it after being hit by another car. The Bolt drug the pedestrian underneath the vehicle for up to 20 feet, ultimately resulting in the suspension of its permit to perform driverless operations in California.

Cruise ultimately suspended its driverless operations across the country as it investigated the incident internally. It hired an independent firm, Quinn Emanuel, to assess its response to the incident as a building block in its plan to earn back public trust. The report from Quinn Emanuel called out “deficient leadership” and lack of accountability across the company. Eventually, Cruise’s co-founders left the company just before Cruise began to purge some of its top officials.

90%: Ferrari Wants to Know How Batteries Work

Ferrari Purosangue rossa

Ferrari might not be up to manufacturing its own battery cells, but it sure wants to know how they work.

CEO Benedetto Vigna recently spoke at the opening of E-Cells lab, a new battery research center within the calls of the University of Bologna. The lab is championed by NXP Semiconductors and promoted by Ferrari, with the ultimate goal of the automaker utilizing the revolutionary battery tech developed within the lab in its future battery-powered offerings.

Here’s what Vigna had to say:

We want to open up cells and understand what is in there. Production will always be done through external manufacturers, based on the know-how we hope to acquire through this research center. We cannot afford to take cells as black boxes.

Ferrari is certainly interested in understanding the underlying battery tech (and using it in its cars), but it isn’t large enough to justify building cells on its own. Last year, Ferrari sold 13,663 vehicles—44% of which have a hybrid drivetrain. This brought in a record $6.4 billion in revenue, though when compared to other automakers looking to build their own battery plants, that’s a drop in the bucket. For example, Toyota’s 2023 revenue was $274.9, Ford’s was $176.2 billion, and Tesla’s was $96.8 billion.

Presently, Ferrari’s battery cells are supplied by Korean battery manufacturer, SK. The automaker recently signed a memorandum of understanding SK to renew the collaboration between the two companies, meaning that the tech developed at E-Cells lab could be shared with SK so it could eventually find its way into Ferrari’s future cars.

100%: How Are You Feeling About Robotaxis?

Waymo Geely Zeekr Driverless EV

Autonomous ride-hailing services are racing to market. Companies like Cruise, Motional, Waymo, Zoox, and more are betting big on the future of autonomy by throwing what seems to be endless bags of cash at the endeavor.

With any sort of new technology, there are growing pains. But the public hasn’t been extremely receptive to driverless hunks of metal on wheels blocking streets, causing increased traffic, and even getting into accidents. These companies have been working on it, though. And while they’re still far from perfect, they sure are trying to earn the public’s trust.

That being said, how are you feeling about the current state of robotaxis? Would you take a ride in one? Do you believe Tesla will reveal a functional vehicle in August? Let me know in the comments.

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