In an official announcement, written July 26, TuSimple has finally made public that the company is cooperating with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) with a “safety compliance investigation.” The investigation is linked to an incident in which a TuSimple tractor-trailer made a sudden leftward movement, causing it to slam into a median barrier at highway speeds.
Pundits against self-driving vehicles smell blood in the waters
According to multiple sources, including today’s Wall Street Journal report and a video released by The Asian Mai Show, the incident in question happened back on April 6, 2022, when a truck equipped with a TuSimple Holdings self-driving system was traveling on I-10. An internal report from TuSimple claimed the sudden change in direction was because someone in the cab did not properly reboot the autonomous driving system before engaging it.
That caused it to execute an outdated command. The left-turn command was over two minutes old, from before the reboot. It should have been erased from the system, but wasn’t.
But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, which claims to be the birthplace of autonomous vehicles, said it was the autonomous-driving system that turned the wheel. The researchers said blaming the entire accident on human error is misleading.
The researchers said common safeguards would have prevented the crash had they been in place. The system should not be responding to commands even hundredths of seconds old, heaven forbid two minutes.
The safety driver, who monitors the operation of the self-driving truck, should be blocked from engaging the system when it is malfunctioning in a similar manner to how you can not engage collision mitigation-enhanced cruise control systems while the sensor is blocked by debris or ice/snow.
Phil Koopman, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon who has contributed to international safety standards for autonomous vehicles, said, referring to the company’s disclosures, “This information shows that the testing they are doing on public roads is highly unsafe.” But is this his professional opinion, or one from a competitor?
TuSimple in full damage control
TuSimple welcomed the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation team along with staff from FMCSA at its site in Tucson. They were there to discuss what occurred and the solutions TuSimple put in place to safeguard against “human errors.”
TuSimple is helping FMCSA and NHTSA with the review process. In short, the company doesn’t want its permits pulled. UPS, U.S. Xpress, and VolksWagen AG have invested a great deal of money into TuSimple, and would not want to have to cancel their agreements.
Remember Koofman’s statement that the on-road testing was unsafe There are others who agreed, and were supposedly terminated for that reason. John Lindland, once the company’s top safety official, filed a lawsuit in federal court in March 2021. He claims he was wrongfully fired after he refused to sign off on safety standards that he said the company had yet to meet.
Lindland said in a filing in the case, which is pending, “Essentially, Mr. Hou would come up with an idea, instruct his teams to execute the idea, and then would test the idea on public roads, bypassing all safety standards and regulations.”
A TuSimple spokesman denied the allegations in the suit and said that a company of TuSimple’s size that there were bound to be “a few former employees who have made complaints after being terminated.” We will have to wait for that case to develop to find out who was responsible.