Tesla 'autopilot' driver may have had movie on
Police found a portable DVD player in the 2015 Tesla S that was on “Autopilot” mode when it hit a semi-trailer May 7, killing Tesla driver Joshua Brown.
And the driver of the semi says Brown may have been watching a “Harry Potter” movie when his car hit struck the underside of the trailer, becoming the first person believed to be killed in a car that was in partial self-driving mode.
The fatal crash has prompted a federal investigation into the self-driving technology Tesla uses in its Model S and Model X.
Police said the Tesla, which Brown had nicknamed “Tessy,” was in Autopilot mode at the time of the crash in Williston, Florida.
Tesla said in a blog post “neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”
Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant Kim Montes told The Detroit News in an email that “there was a portable DVD player in the Tesla vehicle.”
Calls to the attorney representing Frank Baressi, the truck driver, were not immediately returned Friday. Baressi told The Associated Press that Brown was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” when the Tesla hit the truck.
The movie “was still playing when he died,” he said, but acknowledged he didn’t see the movie, only heard it.
Florida police say charges are pending the results of the ongoing investigation.
Brown, 40, who was from Canton, Ohio, had eight speeding tickets and a ticket for failing to obey a traffic sign in a six-year period, according to records from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. He was most recently ticketed for driving 64 mph in a 35 mph zone on Aug. 7.
Brown started a YouTube channel with a number of short videos demonstrating Tesla’s Autopilot in various situations. It included videos showing the feature having trouble navigating certain corners and performing well on others.
In an October 2015 video, Brown was recorded in the Tesla driving on Autopilot in stop-and-go traffic on the highway. His hands were off the wheel.
“It takes all the stress (out),” Brown said in the video. “(You) get to your destination slightly slower, but, hey, at least now you don’t have to worry about anything. Just let it go.”
In an April 5, 2016 video, Brown recorded the autopilot function swerving to avoid a white boomlift truck that cut him off.
“I actually wasn’t watching that direction and Tessy (the name of my car) was on-duty with autopilot engaged,” Brown wrote in the YouTube description. “Tessy did great. I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities. I have always been impressed with the car, but I had not tested the car’s side collision avoidance. I am VERY impressed. Excellent job Elon!”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted a link to the video later that month, writing: “owner video of Autopilot steering to avoid collision with a truck.”
Montes said Friday that authorities did not find a video camera in the Tesla after the May 7 crash.
In a statement released through attorneys Friday, Brown’s family said they are “committed to cooperating in these efforts and (hope) that information learned from this tragedy will trigger further innovation which enhances the safety of everyone on the roadways.”
According to Brown’s obituary and a biography on his company website, he studied physics and computer science at the University of New Mexico.
In his junior year, Brown enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1997 and served 11½ years on active duty as a master explosive ordnance disposal technician. His obituary said he was Navy SEAL and was deployed numerous times overseas with Special Operations Forces.
He founded the technology company Nexu Innovations Inc., which provides Wi-Fi, camera systems and home automation services that allow consumers to control things like lights and temperature remotely. The company website said it provides its services to the public consumer market, Department of Defense and other government organizations.
The phone number listed for his Ohio-based company went to Brown’s voicemail. A representative for the company could not be reached for comment. The company has a staff of eight, according to the website.
Brown was not married and is survived by his parents and a sister.
Staff writer Keith Laing and the Associated Press contributed