Watch Tesla's Autopilot Save a Driver from a Nasty Collision

It was a dark and stormy night when a car accident was prevented by very cool technology.


Tesla's Autopilot feature has been put to the test and there's video footage to prove it.

It was a dark and stormy night, the driver going straight down the road at 45 mph when, all of a sudden, a vehicle turned in front of his car. Good thing he was in a Tesla equipped with the latest Autopilot software, or else there may have been an accident.

The poster wrote that he was “watching stopped traffic to [his] right” when the car turned in front of him. “I did not touch the brake. Car did all the work.”

However, this close shave doesn't mean we should give ourselves over to our robotic chauffeurs. Tesla's Autopilot is not a substitute for driving. The feature is not a reason to take your hands off the wheel to shave and butter your rolls with jam. It's more of an advanced cruise control. However, some people have chosen to use it as a reason to clock out while driving, misusing the feature, and risking their own lives and the lives of others in the process. One second of inattention could be the difference between noticing that oncoming vehicle or not. 

This idea was well-illustrated in National Geographic's show Brain Games. In the episode, "Pay Attention" (around the 8:07 mark), narrator Neil Patrick Harris asks the viewer to count the number of things that change in an image after a second of black. The test “gives remarkable insight as to how much of the world you're missing at any given moment,” Harris says.

What Tesla's Autopilot is, is a tool people can use to make driving down the highway a more relaxing experience, but it requires supervision.

Brad Templeton likens the feature to the development of cruise control. “With regular cruise control, you could take your feet off the pedals, but might have to intervene fairly often either by using the speed-adjust buttons or full control,” he writes in his blog. “Interventions could be several times a minute. Later, 'Adaptive Cruise Control' arose, which still required you to steer and fully supervise, but would only require intervention on the pedals rarely on the highway. A few times an hour might be acceptable.”

It's a numbers game, and Tesla is working toward reducing how often drivers will have to intervene. 

Tesla's system will no doubt encounter scenarios it didn't expect, which is where you, the attentive driver, swoop in to correct the vehicle. We're witnessing a coming-of-age story for autonomous cars and at this point in the story we are the parents. There will be stumbles during this period, but drivers are supposed to be watching to catch it when it does fail. Eventually, the data collected from these encounters will help to train the next generation of software updates that will bring humanity closer to the unmanned car. Tesla drivers are training the cars of 2020.

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Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: Jon Hall

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It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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