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Tesla recalls over 2 million vehicles to fix defective system that monitors drivers using Autopilot

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FILE - The Tesla company logo shines off the rear deck of an unsold 2020 Model X at a Tesla dealership, April 26, 2020, in Littleton, Colo. Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles across its model lineup to fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when they use Autopilot. Documents posted by U.S. safety regulators say the company will send out a software update to fix the problems. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles across its model lineup to fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when they use Autopilot.

Documents posted Wednesday by by U.S. safety regulators say the company will send out a software update to fix the problems.

The recall comes after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

The agency says its investigation found Autopilot’s method of ensuring that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and “can lead to foreseeable misuse of the system.”

The recall covers nearly all of the vehicles Tesla sold in the U.S. and includes those produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year.

Autopilot includes features called Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with Autosteer intended for use on limited access freeways when it’s not operating with a more sophisticated feature called Autosteer on City Streets.

The software update apparently will limit where Autosteer can be used.

“If the driver attempts to engage Autosteer when conditions are not met for engagement, the feature will alert the driver it is unavailable through visual and audible alerts, and Autosteer will not engage,” the recall documents said.

Recall documents say that agency investigators met with Tesla starting in October to explain “tentative conclusions” about the fixing the monitoring system. Tesla, it said, did not agree with the agency’s analysis but agreed to the recall on Dec. 5 in an effort to resolve the investigation.

Auto safety advocates for years have been calling for stronger regulation of the driver monitoring system, which mainly detects whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel.

The software update includes additional controls and alerts “to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility,” the documents said.

The software update was sent to certain affected vehicles on Tuesday, with the rest getting it at a later date, the documents said.

Autopilot can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane, but is a driver-assist system and cannot drive itself despite its name. Independent tests have found that the monitoring system is easy to fool, so much that drivers have been caught while driving drunk or even sitting in the back seat.

In its defect report filed with the safety agency, Tesla said Autopilot’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”

A message was left early Wednesday seeking further comment from the Austin, Texas, company.

Tesla says on its website that Autopilot and a more sophisticated Full Self Driving system cannot drive autonomously and are meant to help drivers who have to be ready to intervene at all times. Full Self Driving is being tested by Tesla owners on public roads.

In a statement posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter, Tesla said safety is stronger when Autopilot is engaged.

NHTSA has dispatched investigators to 35 Tesla crashes since 2016 in which the agency suspects the vehicles were running on an automated system. At least 17 people have been killed.

The investigations are part of a larger probe by the NHTSA into multiple instances of Teslas using Autopilot crashing into parked emergency vehicles that are tending to other crashes. NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety problems with Teslas in the past year, announcing multiple recalls and investigations, including a recall of Full Self Driving software.

In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said Tesla shouldn’t be calling the system Autopilot because it can’t drive itself.

In its statement Wednesday, NHTSA said the Tesla investigation remains open “as we monitor the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety.”

 

 

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NASA Awards University Research Projects to Support Agency Missions

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“NASA’s EPSCoR awards are a tool to strengthen research capacity in areas across our nation that have historically been underrepresented in government research,” said Torry Johnson, deputy associate administrator of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement Programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The goal with each award is to provide institutions a long-term and sustainable pathway to participating in the aerospace industry by cultivating competitive research capabilities and fostering strategic relationships with NASA experts.”

The EPSCoR awards will compliment NASA’s research portfolio to benefit future missions. Selected proposals cover a range of science and technology needs including in space manufacturing, heliophysics, astronaut health, and climate research.

The NASA EPSCoR Rapid Response Research grants, funded by the agency’s Office of STEM Engagement, will award approximately $100,000 to each project over the course of a one-year performance period for fiscal year 2024.

The awarded institutions are:

  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • University of Delaware in Newark
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Kentucky in Lexington
  • Louisiana Board of Regents in Baton Rouge
  • University of Mississippi in University
  • Montana State University in Bozeman
  • University of North Dakota in Grand Forks
  • University of Nebraska in Omaha
  • New Mexico State University in Las Cruces
  • Nevada System of Higher Education in Reno
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island
  • College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Wyoming in Laramie

NASA establishes partnerships with government, higher education, and industry to create lasting improvements in research infrastructure while enhancing national research and development competitiveness. The program is directed at those jurisdictions that have traditionally been underrepresented in competitive aerospace and aerospace-related research activities.

For more information about NASA STEM, visit:

https://stem.nasa.gov

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NASA Selects First Lunar Instruments for Artemis Astronaut Deployment

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Artist’s concept of an Artemis astronaut deploying an instrument on the lunar surface. Credits: NASA

NASA has chosen the first science instruments designed for astronauts to deploy on the surface of the Moon during Artemis III. Once installed near the lunar South Pole, the three instruments will collect valuable scientific data about the lunar environment, the lunar interior, and how to sustain a long-duration human presence on the Moon, which will help prepare NASA to send astronauts to Mars.

“Artemis marks a bold new era of exploration, where human presence amplifies scientific discovery. With these innovative instruments stationed on the Moon’s surface, we’re embarking on a transformative journey that will kick-start the ability to conduct human-machine teaming – an entirely new way of doing science,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “These three deployed instruments were chosen to begin scientific investigations that will address key Moon to Mars science objectives.”

The instruments will address three Artemis science objectives: understanding planetary processes, understanding the character and origin of lunar polar volatiles, and investigating and mitigating exploration risks. They were specifically chosen because of their unique installation requirements that necessitate deployment by humans during moonwalks. All three payloads were selected for further development to fly on Artemis III that’s targeted to launch in 2026, however, final manifesting decisions about the mission will be determined at a later date. Members of these payload teams will become members of NASA’s Artemis III science team.

The Lunar Environment Monitoring Station (LEMS) is a compact, autonomous seismometer suite designed to carry out continuous, long-term monitoring of the seismic environment, namely ground motion from moonquakes, in the lunar south polar region. The instrument will characterize the regional structure of the Moon’s crust and mantle, which will add valuable information to lunar formation and evolution models. LEMS previously received four years of NASA’s Development and Advancement of Lunar Instrumentation funding for engineering development and risk reduction. It is intended to operate on the lunar surface from three months up to two years and may become a key station in a future global lunar geophysical network. LEMS is led by Dr. Mehdi Benna, from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora (LEAF) will investigate the lunar surface environment’s effects on space crops. LEAF will be the first experiment to observe plant photosynthesis, growth, and systemic stress responses in space-radiation and partial gravity. Plant growth and development data, along with environmental parameters measured by LEAF, will help scientists understand the use of plants grown on the Moon for both human nutrition and life support on the Moon and beyond. LEAF is led by Christine Escobar of Space Lab Technologies, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado.

The Lunar Dielectric Analyzer (LDA) will measure the regolith’s ability to propagate an electric field, which is a key parameter in the search for lunar volatiles, especially ice. It will gather essential information about the structure of the Moon’s subsurface, monitor dielectric changes caused by the changing angle of the Sun as the Moon rotates, and look for possible frost formation or ice deposits. LDA, an internationally contributed payload, is led by Dr. Hideaki Miyamoto of the University of Tokyo and supported by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

“These three scientific instruments will be our first opportunity since Apollo to leverage the unique capabilities of human explorers to conduct transformative lunar science,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These payloads mark our first steps toward implementing the recommendations for the high-priority science outlined in the Artemis III Science Definition Team report.”

Artemis III, the first mission to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon in more than 50 years, will explore the south polar region of the Moon, within 6 degrees of latitude from the South Pole. Several proposed landing regions for the mission are located among some of the oldest parts of the Moon. Together with the permanently shadowed regions, they provide the opportunity to learn about the history of the Moon through previously unstudied lunar materials.

With the Artemis campaign, NASA will land the first woman, first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut on the Moon, and establish long-term exploration for scientific discovery and preparation for human missions to Mars for the benefit of all.

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NASA Administrator Names New Head of Space Technology

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Dr. Kurt “Spuds” Vogel will serve as the new associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Tuesday. His appointment is effective immediately.

Vogel succeeds James Reuter, who retired from the agency in June 2023. Dr. Prasun Desai has served as the acting associate administrator since and now will return to his previous role as deputy associate administrator for STMD.

“With more than three decades of public service, including his most recent role as NASA’s director of Space Architecture, Spuds brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate,” said Nelson. “I am confident his leadership will help NASA continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with space technologies and advancing American leadership in space.”

In this role, Vogel is responsible for executive leadership, overall strategic planning and direction, and effective management for all elements of the Space Technology Programs executed under STMD’s $1.2 billion budget. He plans, directs, coordinates, and evaluates the full range of space technology programs and activities including budget formulation and execution, and represents the program to appropriate officials within and outside the agency.

Previously, Vogel was appointed as the director of space architectures within the Office of the Administrator at NASA Headquarters, a role he has served since July 19, 2021.

He joined the agency with 34 years of government experience, primarily in the Department of Defense.

Prior to his NASA appointment, Vogel served for six years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), leading innovative research in stealth technology, electronic warfare, air-space integration, and space control systems. He managed a portfolio of classified, state-of-the-art, high-risk programs that spanned multiple DARPA offices.

Before joining DARPA, Vogel led research and development efforts at the Air Force Research Lab’s Systems Technology Office where he directed a Defense Department science and technology portfolio. He also served as the acting chief technologist for the National Reconnaissance Office’s Survivability Assurance Office. He retired from active duty in 2010 after serving more than 21 years in the U.S. Air Force in both the air and space domains.

Vogel holds a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is a member of the national honor societies for both engineering and aerospace engineering.

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