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Tesla's Lack of a Black Box is Making Life Difficult for Investigators

Author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

Since its first vehicle came out nearly a decade ago, Tesla's been doing things differently than other automakers. While that has usually been a good thing for the electric-car company, it's a headache for others. 


Getting Data Out Of A Tesla Is Challenging


Last month, a Tesla Model X drove into a concrete barrier on the highway in California. The fatal accident occurred when the vehicle was operating in its Autopilot mode. As a vehicle with semi-autonomous capabilities, the car managed to get a substantial amount of data just before the incident happened. Unfortunately, U.S. accident investigators are having a hard time accessing the data. 


According to a report by Bloomberg, the data stored on the Model X, and all of Tesla's vehicles, is in a proprietary format the only the automaker can access. The high-tech vehicles send information to the company's computers back at its home base, but that information can't be accessed either without Tesla's cooperation. Clearly, this isn't helping investigators.


"It makes a challenging investigation more so," said Peter Goelz, a former managing director at the National Transportation Safety Boards. 


Other autonomous machines, like airplanes, have crash-proof records that are known as "black boxes" onboard that capture every piece of data on the flight. It even records sounds from the cockpit. In the recent incident involving one of Tesla's vehicles, the NTSB needs the automaker's assistance in getting crucial information on the semi-autonomous vehicle. 


Tesla And NTSB Butting Heads


This, as the outlet reports, isn't going that smoothly. Tesla recently released information without NTSB's permission and Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, discredited the NTSB and its work on Twitter. This, understandably, has created some tension between the two. 


As Bloomberg reports, participants in an NTSB inquiry are prohibited by law and agreements, which they must sign, to release any data on an investigation. So Tesla's decision to release any kind of information, especially on Twitter, is unusual. The outlet also states that it's strange for a participant in an open investigation to be critical of the NTSB. 


This isn't the first time the NTSB and Tesla have butted heads, though. Last year, the organization called on highway regulators to create standards for data collection on autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles after investigating a fatal incident involving a Tesla. The NTSB wanted regulators to make data collection "readily available" for cars that have self-driving capabilities and we're sure Tesla didn't like that. 


Tesla's Working On Providing Data


Tesla, though, has gotten better at making its data easier to access. Last month, the automaker introduced a new piece of software that allows owners and others to download crash data from computers. While limited, being able to download the data means that Tesla adheres to NHTSA's recommendations for including things like speed and braking information. Unfortunately, Tesla doesn't provide information on how its autonomous driving systems or batteries were functioning, which is stuff that the NTSB wants to look into. 


Getting access to data, according to a former chairman of the NTSB, Jim Hall, may need to be done at the legal level in order for the NTSB to access the data it needs as more automobiles become reliant on computers. "You're going to have to have some legislation to provide protection, like we do for the aviation black boxes, particularly because automobiles are going to be an equivalent to aviation in terms of technology," he said. 


via: Bloomberg/Photo by: ABC7

Vineeth Joel Patel
Joel Patel has been covering all aspects of the automotive industry for four years as an editor and freelance writer for various websites. When it comes to cars, he enjoys covering the merger between technology and cars. In his spare time, Joel likes to watch baseball, work on his car, and try new foods
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