Mobileye blames split with Tesla on its disregard for vehicle safety

Mobileye, which develops collision avoidance systems, split with Tesla Motors in July because the firm was "pushing the envelope in terms of safety" with regards to its Autopilot feature.

The partnership was announced in August last year and saw Mobileye's technology being incorporated into Model S cars.

But a crash between a Tesla vehicle on autopilot and a trailer earlier this year, which resulted in a fatality, prompted Mobileye to withdraw from the partnership in July 2016. 

It later issued a statement saying that its technology will not be able to recognise a crossing trailer, such as that which was responsible for the accident, until 2018.

Tesla issued a blog post after the accident which said that "neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied".

"It is not designed to cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner," said Amnon Shashua, Mobileye’s chief technology officer.

"No matter how you spin it, (Autopilot) is not designed for that. It is a driver assistance system and not a driverless system.”

In a tacit admission that the system did need some improvement, Tesla began rolling out a new version of Autopilot this week that aims to increase its safety by relying more on radar than optical camera. 

"Since the release of Autopilot, we've continuously educated customers on the use of the features, reminding them that they're responsible to keep their hands on the wheel and remain alert and present when using Autopilot," said a Tesla spokeswoman. "Drivers must be prepared to take control at all times."

However, drivers using Autopilot were able to take their hands off the wheel at highway speeds for several minutes at a time.

YouTube videos proliferated soon after the system's launch last autumn showing Tesla drivers driving hands-free, prompting the company’s chief executive Elon Musk to express concern about drivers doing "crazy things".

The recent Autopilot update will make it more difficult for drivers to ignore warnings to keep hands on the wheel and other changes that Musk said would probably have prevented the fatality in May.

Still, Musk said the revised system will allow a driver's hands to be off the wheel for up to three minutes while following a car at highway speeds.

But the recent comments from Mobileye make its rift with Tesla unusually public, which is atypical in an industry where suppliers and automakers rarely speak ill of each other.

After Mobileye announced its break with Tesla in July in the wake of the fatality, Tesla said in a statement that Mobileye could not keep pace with Tesla's product changes.

"Our parting ways was inevitable," Musk told a press conference in late July.

Shashua said the company had reservations about the mixed messages from Tesla about Autopilot – both boasting of its capabilities while cautioning that drivers needed to keep their hands on the wheel – especially after watching Tesla's response to the Florida crash.

"Long-term this is going to hurt the interests of the company and hurt the interests of an entire industry, if a company of our reputation will continue to be associated with this type of pushing the envelope in terms of safety," he said.

The company has 27 automakers as customers for its collision detection systems, which represents around 70 per cent of the current market.

Tesla and Musk have also said the Florida death was the first known fatality involving a car operating on Autopilot in 130 million miles of driving, and have contrasted that to the average of one death every 60 million miles of driving by vehicles worldwide.

Musk unveiled a ‘Master Plan’ for Tesla in July that will see the company broaden its product portfolio into electric trucks and buses, car sharing and solar energy systems. 

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