The First Recorded Crash Involving Tesla’s Autopilot Feature and Why It Is So Important

While I know that this crash has been highly publicized in the past few days, I find it only fitting that I should publish a blog post on this.

On May 7, in Williston, Florida, a fatal accident occurred. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, it should It doesn’t matter that the deceased driver of a Tesla Model S became one of the 3,287 daily deaths from automotive crashes every day. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to digest.

This incident was the first self-driving car death on record. Between Tesla’s extensive testing of the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature, and owners’ use of the feature, there are 130 million miles of Autopilot being used.

The fatal accident occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn at an intersection without a traffic light in front of the Tesla. The driver, Joshua Brown, died of injuries sustained in the wreck.

Tesla published a blog post saying that the Model S was travelling on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when the tractor-trailer crossed its path.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.”

Tesla went onto say that they were saddened by the loss of Brown, who was a “friend to Tesla and the broader EV community,” as well as stating that the risk of injury will decrease as Autopilot gets better over time, as it is currently in a public beta stage. Whenever Autopilot is engaged, a warning is displayed to remind the driver that the technology is in public beta and that the driver should have both hands on the wheel at all times, in the event of an emergency such as this.

Per company policy, Tesla notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when they heard of the incident. NHTSA has since launched an investigation into the crash and Autopilot.

The AP (Associated Press) reports that the driver of the truck, Frank Baressi, says that he heard a “Harry Potter” movie playing in the Tesla following the crash, however he was not able to see where it was coming from. NHTSA investigators do not believe it was playing on the massive infotainment screen in the Tesla (which would require hacking into the operating system of the car). However, the report does state that a portable DVD player was found in the car following the crash, but it is unclear whether it was playing at the time of the crash.

Baressi could face charges for making an unsafe maneuver, but he claims that he was unable to see the Model S, as it was travelling at a high rate of speed. It appears that Baressi failed to yield to the right-of-way when making a left turn, especially in something large and heavy enough that he could not accelerate quickly enough to get out of the way.

It is understandable to me why Tesla, ever the perfectionist, would not want to release Autopilot as a final product just yet. To me, Tesla should not have named Autopilot as such. It implies that the car can fully drive itself without ANY control from the driver (it can do about 75% of that).

The co-developer of the Autopilot technology used in the Model S, Mobileye, said that the technology was not designed for such circumstances. The automatic emergency braking feature built into Autopilot is specifically designed to avoid rear-end collisions, and the incident was one that it could not have prevented. Mobileye went onto say that by 2018, there will be a Lateral Turn Across Path detection capability in it’s systems, and said feature will be included as part of the Euro NCAP safety ratings in 2020.

While we will have to wait for the official NHTSA report to come out, we can only speculate. Here’s my two cents:

This was a clear case of user error. Whether Brown was watching Harry Potter at the time of the crash or not, he obviously did not see Baressi’s tractor-trailer pulling out in front of him. It doesn’t matter how fast he was going – the crash would have likely happened regardless. That’s not to say that speed wasn’t a factor in the crash. If Brown had been going slower (the speed he was travelling is not currently released to the public), he might be alive. Baressi clearly did not see the Model S, or he would not have made the turn.

2016 Tesla Model S

Hennessey Venom GT is Now the World’s Fastest Convertible!

Ever since 2013 with the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport smashing world speed records for a production car, legendary Texas tuning firm Hennessey, and Bugatti, have been duking it out on runways with the world’s fastest “production” cars. Why “production?” Because these cars are made in extremely limited quantities.

Does that make them any less impressive machines? No, of course not. It just means that there is a very small customer base for these cars, and those who do own them rarely, if ever, exploit their full potential.

The Hennessey Venom GT Spyder won the latest battle in the speed war. It hit 265.9 mph on a 2.9-mile runway at Naval Air Station Lemoore on March 25. Who drove the Venom GT Spyder to such a high speed? None other than the Ford Performance Racing School Director Brian Smith. The feat was recorded by the independent speed testing firm, Racelogic.

The Venom GT Sypder proved to be much quicker than the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport Vitesse, which hit a still-impressive 254 mph back in 2013. That was a record-breaking run. Think that’s impressive? It is. The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport hit 268 mph in 2013 as well, and held that record for a year. The Venom GT hit an incredible 270.49 mph during a record attempt at Kennedy Space Center in 2014.

The Veyron is now out of production, and the much-hyped Chiron replacement should be out in the next year or so, according to Bugatti. Bugatti claims much higher speeds than the Veyron, along with a host of improvements. A blog post about the Chiron and all of Bugatti’s promises is in short order.

Anyways, this means that Hennessey can sit on their throne for a while. Don’t worry, Bugatti – or someone else – will come along and snatch the title.

The Venom (both versions) is powered by a twin-turbocharged 7.0-liter V8 with a dynamometer-proven 1,451 horsepower and 1,287 horsepower. That’s the kind of power you’d see in something meant to go down the drag strip. Hennessey claims a 0-60 time of less than 2.4 seconds. If something that’s RWD and has almost 1,500 horsepower can do that, put my name down for it!

Also, Hennessey’s timing couldn’t have been better. This year is Hennessey’s 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Hennessey will be selling three limited-edition Venom GT Spyder “World Record Edition” cars. How much are they asking? A paltry $1.3 million.

That’s the video of the world record for the world’s fastest convertible being smashed to pieces. Congratulations, Hennessey. Celebrate, and make the Venom even faster. Somebody is going to get that trophy soon enough.

Blancfleet Hopes to Be the Supercar Version of ZipCar!

Blancfleet, a New York City-based supercar-rental company, is really, really cool.  While most of us can’t afford to buy a supercar, let alone drive one for a day or more, Blancfleet makes driving one for an extended period of time possible by using a timeshare program very much like ZipCar.  Blancfleet founder Charles Polanco says that “Blancfleet aims to become the next ZipCar,” though your average ZipCar drop-off point likely won’t have a Nissan GT-R, Pagani Huayra, or Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse.  Many supercar rental companies charge fees that would give even Bill Gates a nightmare.  Blancfleet, however, uses crowdfunding to get the large fees one normally sees down to (relatively) sane levels.  As Blancfleet stated in May, the company actually BUYS the cars, rather than leasing the cars from the automaker for a certain period of time.  Most other supercar rental companies lease the cars for three years so they can get the new versions when they come out.  Blancfleet allows each car a certain amount of rental hours per year, and money made from these hourly rental periods is used to pay for the cars (just like ZipCar).

ZipCar has become wildly popular with urbanites who don’t want the hassle of having to own a car.  With ZipCar, you rent a car for a certain amount of hours, go to a designated drop-off and pick-up point, and the car is waiting for you.  ZipCar users pay the fee either electronically or on-site through a ZipCar representative.  Paperwork is filled out online once unless something personal changes.  ZipCar is marginally more expensive than renting a car through, say, Hertz, because the insurance costs are built into the rental fee.

Back to Blancfleet.  Blancfleet knows that it can be extremely difficult to obtain insurance to rent a supercar.  The potential damage that could happen to any given supercar in the Blancfleet fleet could easily eclipse the average price of a house or condominium.  For the renter of the car, liability insurance can only cover so much, except in rare instances.  The massive deposits required by many other supercar rental firms mean that even a scratch on a given rented supercar could cost the renter thousands of dollars.  To make the rental process more attractive, Blancfleet self-insures all of it’s cars – all costs are mushed into the rental fee, and the risk of damage is spread through the hundreds of people who have crowdfuned Blancfleet.  This means that renting a supercar through Blancfleet is far less expensive than renting it through the Hertz Dream Car fleet.

Of course, renting a supercar and cheap don’t exactly rhyme.  If you want to drive around New York City in a Bugatti Veyron or cruise the streets of Fort Lauderdale in a Pagani Huayra, you’ll have to cough up $1,325 and $1,040 an hour, respectively.  That is, once enough people pledge enough hours to afford the car’s $1 million+ dollar price tags.  However, you could have a LOT of time in a $83-an-hour Nissan GT-R, or even a $204-an-hour Ferrari 458 Italia.  Both the GT-R and the Ferrari are already in Blancfleet’s fleet.  But, the important thing is that you’ll be able to rent a Pagani Huayra or Bugatti Veyron – that is, if you skip the bills for a month (or three).  Plus, you’ll feel like a million bucks driving it around!  Or, you could just stop daydreaming and head over to Blancfleet’s website at https://blancfleet.com/Home.aspx and sign yourself up for a rental period.  Just let me know when you do.  Sign-up looks to be pretty straightforward and quick, so do it NOW!

The current Blancfleet fleet includes:  Mercedes-Benz S550, Tesla Model S, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz G550, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Porsche 911, and a Nissan GT-R.  Prices for the cheapest vehicle – the GT-R start at $83 an hour.  Blancfleet has not yet bought the Veyron or the Huayra, but is planning to do so soon.  Until then, you’ll have to settle for something equally as cool – the Tesla Model S.

Blancfleet is currently only based in New York City, but is currently building a Blancfleet drop-off and pick-up office in Fort Lauderdale.

 

 

The World’s Fastest Electric Car!

Don Garlits is a drag racing legend.  It’s why he’s known as “Big Daddy.”  Garlits has set records, not only for the amount of wins, but also for eclipsed times, trap speeds, etc.  He’s been active in the drag racing world for the better part of 60 years.  Many credit him for actively starting to make Top Fuel drag racing safer.  He’s learned the hard way on how unsafe old nitromethane dragsters are.  His favorite engine is the 426 Hemi that propelled him to many a victory.  Now, at age 81, he’s trying to set yet another record.

The eerie silence of electric vehicles is a bit creepy to some.  Nowhere is it more apparent than a 1/4 mile dragstrip.  Top Fuel dragsters make 8,000 horsepower, shake your body to the core, and easily hit 150 decibels.

Big Daddy’s Swamp Rat 37 isn’t what he usually drag races.  This is evidenced by the fact that he went 323 mph six years ago.  He regularly drag races a 2009 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak (Dodge’s equivalent of the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet and Chevy COPO Camaro, except it’s got a 600 horsepower Viper V10 under the hood).  Anyhow, Swamp Rat 37 isn’t nearly as quick as other cars he’s sailed down the 1320 feet of a quarter mile in.  But, his new record proves that electric dragsters aren’t slow, either.  According to Wired, Garlits and Swamp Rat 37 just went 7.258 seconds at 184.01 mph at Brandenton Motorsports Park in Florida.  That’s a little bit short of the 200 mph Garlits is aiming for, but he still went 24.16 mph faster than the previous record.

Very few electric cars make supercars look slow, though the Tesla Model S does come close – very close.  However, Big Daddy’s dragster makes every supercar look slow.  Swamp Rat 37 has six 7.5-inch DC electric motors.  Total output from those motors is 1,500 kilowatts, equivalent to about 2,000 horsepower.  Power for those motors is provided by four lithium-ion battery packs that store 420 volts and 3,600 amps.  It’s a little bit more powerful than sticking your finger into an electrical outlet.  Since he’s living his life 1320 feet at a time, there’s no such thing as range anxiety.

Big Daddy built up to full power over the course of several runs, turning in a 10.9, an 8.75, and on his fifth run, he hit 178.42 mph.  His sixth run was the record-shattering run.  For me, the most striking noise is not the whir of the electric motors, but the tires.  The noise of the tires is always drowned out by the thundering engines used in Top Fuel dragsters.  For some,  this may devalue electric dragsters forever, but Big Daddy has shown the world that there’s potential in everything.

Enjoy the video of Garlits setting the record.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea4igN8Thtg