Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s drive to develop and market new driving technology is well known, but former employees say he brushed aside their concerns about the safety of the company’s Autopilot system.
Several employees, including a former Autopilot engineer, told CNN Money that their concerns fell on deaf ears, as Musk always reverted back to a “bigger picture” position on safety.
The automaker’s semi-autonomous driving system came under scrutiny in the wake of a fatal May crash. Musk claims that although the Autopilot didn’t recognize a transport truck in that case, the system makes roads safer. He’s pledged to do more to educate owners on how to properly use Autopilot, but has no plans to stop offering the system.
Musk told the Wall Street Journal “we knew we had a system that on balance would save lives.”
Speaking to CNNMoney, ex-Autopilot engineer Eric Meadows claims he was pulled over by police in 2015 while testing Autopilot on a Los Angeles highway, a few months before the system’s release. The Tesla had difficulty handling turns, and the police suspected him of being intoxicated.
Meadows was later fired for performance reasons, but he claims his worries about Autopilot’s safety — especially the possibility that owners would “push the limits” of the technology — grew over time.
“The last two months I was scared someone was going to die,” he said.
The report mentions a former Tesla executive who worked closely with Musk, and claims the CEO was frequently at loggerheads with “overly cautious” employees. Tesla’s self-parking feature went ahead as planned, another source claims, despite worries that sensors wouldn’t function properly if the vehicle was near the edge of a steep slope. Again, the greater good of preventing driveway deaths overruled these concerns.
The employee mix at Tesla falls into two categories — younger, data-driven employees and seasoned automotive industry types. The report cites multiple sources who claim that data is the guiding factor in Tesla’s decisions, meaning slight risk is allowed if it means a greater potential for overall safety.
While this bothers some engineers and consumer safety groups, even the agency investigating the May crash sides with Musk’s views on safety. Recently, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator Mark Rosekind said the industry “cannot wait for perfect” when it comes to marketing potentially life-saving autonomous technology.
[Image: Tesla Motors]