The federal government’s top auto-safety agency has opened a formal investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system because of growing concerns that it can fail to see parked emergency vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was aware of 11 crashes since 2018 in which Tesla vehicles operating under Autopilot control had hit fire trucks, police cars and other vehicles with flashing lights that were stopped along roadways. Seven of those crashes have resulted in a total of 17 injuries and one death.
“Most incidents took place after dark and the crash scenes encountered included scene control measures such as first-responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones,” the safety agency said in a summary of the investigation.
The new investigation appears to be the broadest look yet at how Autopilot works and how it might be flawed. It could ultimately be used by the safety agency to force Tesla to recall cars and make changes to the system.
One critical issue that investigators will focus on is how Autopilot ensures that Tesla drivers are paying attention to the road. The company’s owner’s manuals instruct drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel, but the system continues operating even if drivers only occasionally tap the wheel.
General Motors has a similar system, called Super Cruise, that allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel but uses an infrared camera to monitor drivers’ eyes to ensure that they are looking at the road.
The safety agency will also examine how Autopilot identifies objects on the road and where Autopilot can be turned on. Tesla tells drivers to use the system only on divided highways, but they can use it on city streets. G.M.’s system uses GPS positioning to restrict its use to major highways that do not have oncoming or cross traffic, intersections, pedestrians or cyclists.
Tesla’s Autopilot system appears to have difficulty detecting and braking for parked cars generally, including private cars and trucks without flashing lights. In July, for example, a Tesla crashed into a parked sport-utility vehicle at the site of an earlier accident. The driver had Autopilot on and had fallen asleep and later failed a sobriety test, the California Highway Patrol said.
The safety agency’s investigation will look at the Tesla Models Y, X, S and 3 from the 2014 to 2021 model years, totaling 765,000 cars, a large majority of the cars the company has made in the United States over that time.
The agency already has opened investigations into more than two dozen crashes that involved Tesla cars and Autopilot. The agency has said eight of those crashes resulted in a total of 10 fatalities. Those investigations are meant to delve into the details of individual cases to provide data and insights that the agency and automakers can use to improve safety or identify problem areas.
Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk, have dismissed safety concerns about Autopilot and claimed that the system made its cars safer than others on the road. But the company has acknowledged that the system can sometimes fail to recognize stopped emergency vehicles.
Safety experts, videos posted on social media and Tesla drivers themselves have documented some of the weaknesses of Autopilot. In some accidents involving the system, drivers of Teslas have been found asleep at the wheel or were awake but distracted or disengaged. A California man was arrested in May after leaving the driver’s seat of his Tesla while it was on Autopilot; he was sitting in the back of his car as it crossed the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco and Oakland.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which has investigated a couple of accidents involving Autopilot, said last year that the company’s “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement” contributed to a 2018 crash that killed Wei Huang, the driver of a Model X that hit a highway barrier in Mountain View, Calif. “It’s time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars,” Robert L. Sumwalt, the board’s chairman, said last year.
Antitrust activity is heating up this summer. New bipartisan legislation aimed at Big Tech was just introduced in the Senate, and federal agencies have adopted a skeptical stance on deal-making. “I believe the antitrust agencies should more frequently consider opposing problematic deals outright,” Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, wrote in a letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, released last week.
The tough talk advances the Biden administration’s position, expressed in a sweeping executive order last month, that cracking down on consolidation protects consumers, markets and workers. But some antitrust lawyers, including former regulators, told the DealBook newsletter that they feared this stance could chill legitimate deals and give enforcers the impression that approving any merger is politically fraught.
Monthly merger notifications to the Federal Trade Commission
Mergers are surging in “astounding” numbers, the F.T.C. said recently. A “tidal wave” of filings has strained resources, and the agency is adjusting its premerger review process, telling companies that they close at their own risk after the usual 30-day review deadline, as deals may later be deemed illegal. The agency already can challenge done deals, but the initial review framework is meant to minimize this insecurity, Christine Wilson, one of two Republican F.T.C. commissioners, wrote in a statement. She said the F.T.C.’s altered process might be driven as much by politics as by the rise in merger activity.
“The F.T.C. is a law enforcement agency, not a rubber stamp,” Lindsay Kryzak, the commission’s public affairs director, told DealBook via email. “Market participants should know that there are consequences to proposing potentially illegal deals.”
“My concern is that this is the government making threats,” said Noah Joshua Phillips, the other Republican commissioner. He has doubts that antitrust policy can deliver the kind of social change that the Biden administration is seeking. He suggested that forces like globalization and international trade, rather than corporate consolidation, drive the economy and labor market.
Jonathan Kanter, the nominee to head the Justice Department’s antitrust division, is awaiting Senate confirmation. Once the division has a chief, the Justice Department and the F.T.C. are expected to coordinate on new merger review guidelines. That, Mr. Phillips said, would be “a big deal.”
The cost of coffee beans is up nearly 44 percent in 2021, pushed by extreme weather in Brazil, pandemic-related shipping bottlenecks and political protests that stalled exports from Colombia.
It’s not yet a problem for Starbucks or Nestlé, coffee giants that buy their supplies far in advance and won’t have to deal with the price gains for a year or more. But some smaller roasters have already had to raise prices, and others expect to, Coral Murphy Marcos reports for The New York Times.
Quincy Henry, a co-owner of Campfire Coffee in Tacoma, Wash., remembers when Brazilian arabica beans were some of the least expensive he could buy, locking them in for $1.90 per pound. His latest order, in late July from the same importer, cost him $2.49 per pound.
Behind that increase is a run-up in the price of beans that will be delivered to roasters months from now. These “coffee futures” serve as a baseline for buyers around the world. A pound of arabica beans in the futures market, usually $1.20 to $1.40, rose above $2 at the end of July, the highest since 2014. On Wednesday, the price of coffee futures was $1.84 a pound.
As weeks of political protests rocked Colombia, it exported 345,000 60-kilogram bags of coffee in May, only one-third its usual monthly shipment, according to data from the nonprofit National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.
Colombia’s exports have since rebounded, but those from other large producers, like Vietnam, have been slowed by shipping bottlenecks as the global economy struggles to reopen after a year of lockdowns. A shortage of shipping containers has restricted exports, analysts say, and led to a sharp rise in the cost of shipping, too.
Brazil has been hit with a series of climate shocks, including a drought. Temperatures last month fell below 27 degrees Fahrenheit, about half what’s normal. READ THE FULL ARTICLE →
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Even as many tech companies announce delays to their return-to-office dates in the face of the Delta variant, it appears that most companies’ plans have not yet changed. Surveys by Morning Consult found that most workers were already in the workplace, and 19 percent said that they would be back by September. READ THE ARTICLE →