Consumer Reports engineers said they “easily tricked” a Tesla Inc. vehicle into driving via its autopilot feature with no one in the driver’s seat, just days after a fatal accident in Texas where police said they did not found no one behind the wheel of a Tesla car.
In a test conducted this week, testers made several trips on a closed half-mile track in a Tesla Model Y sports utility vehicle, the non-profit research organization said in a statement. The vehicle – with Autopilot technology activated – was able to steer on its own along painted lines but at no time did it show a warning that the driver’s seat was empty. The engineer who conducted the test placed a small weighted chain on the steering wheel to simulate the weight of the driver’s hand.
“In our assessment, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention, it couldn’t even tell if there was a driver there,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of automated testing at Consumer Reports. Fisher was able to reach out of the passenger seat and accelerate the car using a dial on the steering wheel.
Tesla, which reports earnings on April 26, did not respond to a request for comment. The company was scrutinized for how it markets autopilot, which is a driver assistance feature. Tesla has launched a feature it calls FSD, or Full Self Driving, for early customers who are “beta testing” the technology before a larger version.
Two men from the Houston area were killed on April 17 after a Tesla Model S sedan crashed and exploded into flames. Many details remain unsolved, including whether the autopilot was used when the vehicle traveled a short distance before hitting a tree. Authorities said one man was found in the front passenger seat and a second in one of the rear seats – with no sign that anyone was behind the wheel.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk spoke on Twitter earlier this week to say the vehicle’s driver assistance features were not to blame.
“The data logs recovered so far show that the autopilot was not enabled and this car did not purchase FSD,” Musk tweeted, referring to the company’s Full Self Driving test software. “Also, standard autopilot would require lane lines to be activated, which this road didn’t have.”
Two federal agencies – the United States National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – are investigating the incident. Local authorities were also seeking warrants to inspect the car.
In a statement, NHTSA said that “the information presented in CR is concerning and we will take action if we find it poses an unreasonable security risk.” The agency said all state laws hold the human driver responsible for the vehicle’s operation.
Also on Thursday, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to the NHTSA expressing concern.
“The most recent Tesla accident is the latest in a series of accidents – the 28th – that NHTSA is investigating on a Tesla car,” the senators wrote. “We fear that the safety issues involving these vehicles are becoming a pattern, which is incredibly worrying and deserves your full attention.”
Tesla stock fell 3.3% to $ 719.69.70 on Thursday in New York trading.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)