Tesla Autopilot autonomous car tech gets beaten by nature. And by imponderableness

While many people expect autonomous cars to pop out all of a sudden in our lives, reality shows its (sometimes) ugly head. A Reddit user named Redebo posted the picture above showing what his Tesla Model S had gone through between Kingman and Las Vegas. He had the Autopilot autonomous technology on and it suddenly flashed a red light indicating there was a problem and that he should take back the control of the car. Then he got the message “radar visibility has been reduced”. When he stopped at a gas station to check what was going on, he took the picture above. Yes, his Tesla and its Autopilot were stopped by a giant moth.

The good part is that it only took Redebo a window squeegee to clean the crushed moth out of the radar and get the Autopilot back to work. And Tesla has stated this sort of event is very rare. Even so, as Redebo has witnessed himself. That brings us more questions than answers. Are there enough redundancies to ensure the system keeps on working if one of the sensors fails or suffers any sort of interference, such as the moth attack? Or mud? Or any sort of cover that could get any “radar visibility” reduced? Which sort of redundancies will be used? V2V? GPS? Many more sensors? Tesla will have a say about that. Anyway, that clearly shows autonomous cars have to go through much improvement before they can let go of its steering wheel and pedals. And that improvement needs pondering the imponderable, something that hitting a moth on the road is not, we have to convey.

Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.