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Tesla Autopilot was engaged before 2018 California crash, NTSB finds

By Kirsten Korosec

A Tesla Model S was in Autopilot mode — the company’s advanced driver assistance system — when it crashed into a fire truck in Southern California last year, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Reuters was the first to report on the contents of the public documents. A final accident brief, including NTSB’s determination of probable cause, is scheduled to be published Wednesday.

The crash, involving a 2014 Tesla Model S, occurred January 22, 2018 in Culver City, Calif. The Tesla had Autopilot engaged for nearly 14 minutes when it struck a fire truck that was parked on Interstate 405. The driver was not injured in the crash and the fire truck was unoccupied.

Tesla has not commented on the report. TechCrunch will update if the company provides a statement.

The report found that the driver’s hands were not on the wheel for the vast majority of that time despite receiving numerous alerts. Autopilot was engaged in the final 13 minutes and 48 seconds of the trip and the system detected driver-applied steering wheel torque for only 51 seconds of that time, the NTSB said. Other findings include:

  • The system presented a visual alert regarding hands-off operation of the Autopilot on four separate occasions.
  • The system presented a first-level auditory warning on one occasion; it occurred following the first visual alert.
  • The longest period during which the system did not detect driver-applied steering wheel torque was 3 minutes and 41 seconds.

In the 2018 crash into a fire truck, the vehicle was operating a “Hardware Version 1” and a firmware version that had been installed via an over-the-air software update on December 28, 2017. The technology provided a number of convenience and safety features, including forward, lane departure and side collision warnings and automatic emergency braking as well as its adaptive cruise control and so-called Autosteer features, which when used together

Public docket opened Tuesday, for investigation of Jan. 22, 2018, Culver City, California, highway crash involving a Tesla & Culver City Fire Dept. fire truck; https://t.co/UbgF0ll9dA. Final accident brief, including probable cause, slated to publish Sept. 4, 2019.

— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) September 3, 2019

While the report didn’t find any evidence that the driver was texting or calling in the moments leading up to the crash, a witness told investigators that he was looking down at what appear to be a smartphone. It’s possible that the driver was holding a coffee or bagel at the time of the crash, the report said.

Autopilot has come under scrutiny by the NTSB, notably a 2016 fatal crash in Florida and a more recent one involving a Walter Huang, who died after his Model X crashed into a highway median in California. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also opened an inquiry into the 2016 fatal crash and ultimately found no defects in the Autopilot system. NTSB determined the 2016 fatal crash was caused by a combination of factors that included limitations of the system.

The family of Huang filed in May 2019 a lawsuit against Tesla and the State of California Department of Transportation. The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, alleges that errors by Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system caused the crash.

Audi e-tron becomes the first all-electric vehicle to earn IIHS top safety rating

By Kirsten Korosec

The 2019 Audi e-tron has become the first battery-electric vehicle to earn a top safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an achievement that Tesla and other electric models like the Chevy Bolt have not been able to capture.

Scoring an IIHS top safety award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in six crashworthiness evaluations, as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.

IIHS said Wednesday that the e-tron fulfills the criteria to earn a top safety rating with standard equipment. The vehicle performed well in crashworthiness testing, earning good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, according to IIHS.

The SUV’s standard front crash prevention system rated superior in IIHS track tests. It avoided a collision in the 25 mph test and reduced its impact speed by an average of 11 mph in the 12 mph test. Its forward collision warning component meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

The award provides a much needed boost to the e-tron. There’s a lot riding on the e-tron, the German automaker’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. And while TechCrunch’s Matt Burns found it quick, comfortable and familiar, the vehicle has had a rocky start that included a voluntary recall in the U.S. due to the risk of battery fire.

Tesla has gotten close to the top safety pick designation. A Tesla Model S was tested in 2017 and performed well, but fell short of earning the top score due to poor headlights and an “acceptable” score in the small overlap crash test. The IIHS has never tested the Tesla Model X.

The electric automaker does have another chance. This time, it’s with the Tesla Model 3, which IIHS is currently testing, according to a recent tweet from the organization.

Tests of the 2019 Tesla Model 3 commence next week with the side crash test. pic.twitter.com/yXtbGDC9h9

— IIHS (@IIHS_autosafety) August 7, 2019

The Model 3 has already achieved an all-around five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite the high marks, NHTSA and Tesla have tussled over how the automaker has characterized the rating in an October 7 blog post when it said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested.

Earlier this month, Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell SUV, the Nexo, became the first fuel cell vehicle to be tested and to earn IIHS’s top safety award. 

Hyundai’s fuel cell SUV just scored a top safety rating from IIHS

By Kirsten Korosec

The Hyundai Nexo, a hydrogen fuel cell SUV first unveiled at CES 2018, has earned a top safety award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The award, announced Thursday, marks two firsts. The Nexo is the first fuel cell vehicle to earn IIHS’s top safety award. Then again, it’s also the first fuel cell vehicle IIHS has ever tested.

The top safety pick+ award is for 2019 Hyundai Nexo vehicles built after June 2019, when the automaker adjusted the headlights to provide better visibility through curves. Any Nexo vehicles produced prior to June still get high marks, but fall short of the top award. Instead, they qualify for IIHS’ second-tier top safety award. The Nexo joins other 2019 Hyundai and Kia vehicles to earn top safety pick+ awards, including the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Niro hybrid and Kia Soul.

The market for the Nexo is small right now. Within the U.S., the new vehicle, which has a base price of $58,300, is only sold in California. Deliveries of the vehicle to California residents began in December 2018. The vehicle has been available to customers in Korea since early 2018.

Normally, such a limited vehicle wouldn’t be included in IIHS’s routine test schedule, the organization said. Hyundai nominated the vehicle for testing. IIHS says it ended up benefiting too because it gave the organization an early opportunity to evaluate a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

Earning this top safety pick+ award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. It also needs an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.

The Nexo, a midsize luxury SUV, has good ratings in all six crashworthiness tests, IIHS said. The Nexo’s standard front crash prevention system earned a superior rating. The vehicle avoided collisions in 12 mph and 25 mph track tests and has a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria, according to IIHS.

The Nexo could someday become more common, and even used in fleets. Self-driving vehicle startup Aurora has been working with Hyundai and Kia for the last year to integrate its “Driver” into Hyundai’s Nexo.

US regulators take aim at Tesla over Model 3 safety claims

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla’s claims about the safety of its Model 3 electric vehicle prompted U.S. regulators to send a cease-and-desist letter and escalate the matter by asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate, according to documents released by the nonprofit legal transparency website PlainSite.

The documents show correspondence between the lawyers at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Tesla that began after the automaker’s October 7 blog post that said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested. PlainSite received the 79 pages of communications since January 2018 between NHTSA and Tesla through a Freedom of Information Act request. There were 450 pages of communication that were withheld due to Tesla’s request for confidentiality on the basis of “trade secrets.”

NHTSA took issue with the blog post, arguing that Tesla’s claims were inconsistent with its advertising guidelines regarding crash ratings. The matter might have ended with that demand. But NHTSA took the issue further and informed Tesla it would ask the Federal Trade Commission to weigh in.

“This is not the first time that Tesla has disregarded the guidelines in a matter that may lead to consumer confusion and give Tesla an unfair market advantage,” the letter dated October 17 reads. “We have therefore also referred this matter to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate whether these statements constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

The automaker’s lawyers did, however, push back against NHTSA’s request, according to the correspondence released by PlainSite. Tesla lawyers argue in one letter that the company’s statements were neither “untrue nor misleading.”

“To the contrary, Tesla has provided consumers with fair and objective information to compare the relative safety of vehicles having 5-star overall ratings,” the letter from Tesla’s deputy general counsel.

The documents posted by PlainSite also showed NHTSA requested sales data on all Tesla vehicles produced since July 2016 with or without Autopilot, the automaker’s advanced driver assistance system. The agency also issued subpoenas to Tesla ordering it to produce information on several crashes, including a January 25, 2019 crash in San Ramon, Calif. The subpoenas requested information about the vehicle, its owner, history and videos and images related to the crash and were to be sent to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigations.

SafetyWing raises $3.5M seed to offer medical insurance to ‘digital nomads’

By Steve O'Hear

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May once said “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. And while that sentiment would be considered risible by just about anybody who works in today’s outward-looking technology industry, if you are a digital worker of the world, you may well be a worker of no insurance.

That’s the problem that SafetyWing, a startup out of Norway and a recent graduate of Y Combinator, is aiming to solve.

“People used to be limited to working locally. Now the internet and recent technologies have made it possible to hire and work for companies globally, allowing people to live wherever in the world they choose to, free from the physical restraints of an office location,” says SafetyWing co-founder and CEO Sondre Rasch.

“Unfortunately, social safety nets like health insurance are national and only available in one’s home country. Millions are left to figure this out on their own with the majority going uninsured. To solve this problem, we are building the first global social safety net: a welfare state on the internet”.

Launched last year, SafetyWing first product is focussed on medical travel insurance, with the promise to provide medical cover for anybody who works outside of their home country. The cover is flexible, too, sold as a 28 day rolling subscription that can be paused at any time. Cover starts at $37 every 4 weeks.

“Our typical customer is a digital nomad,” explains Rasch, “an entrepreneur, freelancer or remote worker in a startup, early 30s, who has moved from the U.S. and spends 3 months at a time in their favorite low cost countries with good infrastructure. Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Eastern Europe and Mexico are typical examples”.

On direct competitors, Rasch says there isn’t really anyone else currently building a “social safety net” for digital nomads, although WorldNomads also offers similar travel insurance. “The main difference is that we are made for digital nomads and remote workers specifically,” he claims. “Our product is quite simple in that we offer a subscription-like service that you can buy while you live abroad, and keep it forever”.

Meanwhile, to support its mission of providing a safety net for digital nomads and to develop further products, the 2017-founded company, whose other co-founders are Sarah Sandnes (CTO) and Hans Kjellby (COO), has raised $3.5 million in seed funding. Leading the round is Nordic and Baltic-focussed VC byFounders, with participation from Credit Ease Fintech Fund and DG Incubation. SafetyWing’s previous backers include YC and The Nordic Web Ventures.

Impossible Foods goes to the grocery store

By Jonathan Shieber

After receiving approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Impossible Foods has cleared the last regulatory hurdle it faced to rolling out in grocery stores.

The company is targeting a September release of Impossible products to join its competitor Beyond Meat on grocery store shelves.

The news comes as the company said it inked a major supply agreement with the OSI Group, a food processing company, to increase the availability of its Impossible Burger.

Impossible Foods has been facing shortages of its product, which it can’t make fast enough to meet growing customer demand.

The supply constraints have been especially acute as the company inks more deals with fast food vendors like Burger King, White Castle and Qdoba to supply its Impossible protein patty and ground meal to a growing number of outlets.

Impossible Foods products are now served in more than 10,000 locations around the world.

Earlier this year, the company hired Dennis Woodside and Sheetal Shah to scale up its manufacturing operations and help manage its growth into international markets. The company began selling its product in Singapore earlier this summer.

May not only saw new executives joining the Impossible team, but a new capital infusion as well. Impossible Foods picked up $300 million in financing from investors, including Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital and Open Philanthropy Project.

With the new FDA approval, Impossible Foods will now be able to go head to head with its chief rival, Beyond Meat. The regulatory approval will also help to dispel questions that have swirled around the safety of its innovative soy leghemoglobin that have persisted since the company began its expansion across the U.S.

Last July, the company received a no-questions letter from the FDA, which confirmed that the company’s heme was safe to eat, according to a panel of food-safety experts.

The remaining obstacle for the company was whether or not the company’s “heme” could be considered a color additive. That approval — the use of heme as a color additive — is what the FDA announced today.

“We’ve been engaging with the FDA for half a decade to ensure that we are completely compliant with all food-safety regulations — for the Impossible Burger and for future products and sales channels,” said Impossible Foods Chief Legal Officer Dana Wagner. “We have deep respect for the FDA as champion of U.S. food safety, and we’ve always gone above and beyond to comply with every food-safety regulation and to provide maximum transparency about our ingredients so that our customers can have 100% confidence in our product.”

Alphabet’s Wing launches OpenSky, a safety app for Australian drone operators

By Sarah Perez

Drone delivery service Project Wing (or just Wing as it’s now called) graduated from Google X last year to become an independent Alphabet business, and recently won governmental approval to operate in the suburbs outside the Australian capital, Canberra. There, its service delivers food, coffee, pet supplies and more to area residents. Related to these efforts, Wing this week launched a new app for drone flyers, OpenSky, to help them find safe places and times to fly their drones or drone fleets.

The app quietly launched on the iOS App Store and Google Play on Tuesday, and is targeted at both recreational drone owners as well as commercial drone operators.

As the Wing website explains, OpenSky wants to make it easier to find out when and where you can fly, whether you’re a “hobbyist who loves to fly” or a business that “uses unmanned aircraft to survey land or deliver goods.”

Screen Shot 2019 07 05 at 11.34.12 AM

CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) says it’s retiring its own “Can I fly there?” app in favor of a remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) digital platform to which app developers can connect their own drone safety apps. OpenSky is the first third-party app to be approved that uses this new system.

In addition to its launch on the app stores, OpenSky is also available on the web.

The new app itself is straightforward to use. From a menu, you select what type of drone operator you are — either recreational, commercial (flying drones commercially less than 2kg) or ReOC (flying drones commercially with an operator certificate issued by CASA).

Screen Shot 2019 07 05 at 10.49.25 AM

You can then enter addresses in the map’s search box to look up information about the no-fly zones and other restrictions that may be in place, as well as view the related CASA compliance maps for guidance. There are also features to help you identify flight hazards and a link to report unsafe drone operations directly to CASA.

In June, Wing published a blog post explaining that it would assist CASA with launching an ecosystem of apps to support safe drone flight. However, it hadn’t yet said what sort of apps it was launching or when they would arrive.

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“Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is taking an innovative approach to giving drone operators information to enable safe and predictable flight,” wrote Wing Project Manager Reinaldo Negron, in the post. “By allowing the drone industry to implement a diverse ecosystem of apps and services which drone flyers can use to obtain flight-related information, CASA is creating space for innovation while ensuring a strong baseline of public safety and regulatory oversight,” he said.

In addition to the drone safety apps, Wing said it also is developing tools for CASA to communicate with drone flyers during major events such as sporting matches, concerts and emergency response incidents.

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“Over time, a CASA-approved ecosystem of apps and services will enhance drone operator choice, public safety, and spur further innovation in the drone industry. By enabling this ecosystem, CASA and the Australian Government provide a compelling example to other countries seeking to safely integrate drones into their national aviation system, and we’re excited to help support the future of Australian drone flight with them,” said Negron.

We reached out to Wing for more information, and will update if the company comments further.

Internet group brands Mozilla ‘internet villain’ for supporting DNS privacy feature

By Zack Whittaker

An industry group of internet service providers has branded Firefox browser maker Mozilla an “internet villain” for supporting a DNS security standard.

The U.K.’s Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA), the trade group for U.K. internet service providers, nominated the browser maker for its proposed effort to roll out the security feature, which they say will allow users to “bypass UK filtering obligations and parental controls, undermining internet safety standards in the UK.”

Mozilla said late last year it was planning to test DNS-over-HTTPS to a small number of users.

Whenever you visit a website — even if it’s HTTPS enabled — the DNS query that converts the web address into an IP address that computers can read is usually unencrypted. The security standard is implemented at the app level, making Mozilla the first browser to use DNS-over-HTTPS. By encrypting the DNS query it also protects the DNS request against man-in-the-middle attacks, which allow attackers to hijack the request and point victims to a malicious page instead.

DNS-over-HTTPS also improves performance, making DNS queries — and the overall browsing experience — faster.

But the ISPA doesn’t think DNS-over-HTTPS is compatible with the U.K.’s current website blocking regime.

Under U.K. law, websites can be blocked for facilitating the infringement of copyrighted or trademarked material or if they are deemed to contain terrorist material or child abuse imagery. In encrypting DNS queries, it’s claimed that it will make it more difficult for internet providers to filter their subscribers’ internet access.

The ISPA isn’t alone. U.K. spy agency GCHQ and the Internet Watch Foundation, which maintains the U.K.’s internet blocklist, have criticized the move to roll out encrypted DNS features to the browser.

The ISPA’s nomination quickly drew ire from the security community. Amid a backlash on social media, the ISPA doubled down on its position. “Bringing in DNS-over-HTTPS by default would be harmful for online safety, cybersecurity and consumer choice,” but said it encourages “further debate.”

One internet provider, Andrews & Arnold, donated £2,940 — around $3,670 — to Mozilla in support of the nonprofit. “The amount was chosen because that is what our fee for ISPA membership would have been, were we a member,” said a tweet from the company.

Mozilla spokesperson Justin O’Kelly told TechCrunch: “We’re surprised and disappointed that an industry association for ISPs decided to misrepresent an improvement to decades old internet infrastructure.”

“Despite claims to the contrary, a more private DNS would not prevent the use of content filtering or parental controls in the UK. DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) would offer real security benefits to UK citizens. Our goal is to build a more secure internet, and we continue to have a serious, constructive conversation with credible stakeholders in the UK about how to do that,” he said.

“We have no current plans to enable DNS-over-HTTPS by default in the U.K. However, we are currently exploring potential DNS-over-HTTPS partners in Europe to bring this important security feature to other Europeans more broadly,” he added.

Mozilla isn’t the first to roll out DNS-over-HTTPS. Last year Cloudflare released a mobile version of its 1.1.1.1 privacy-focused DNS service to include DNS-over-HTTPS. Months earlier, Google-owned Jigsaw released its censorship-busting app Infra, which aimed to prevent DNS manipulation.

Mozilla has yet to set a date for the full release of DNS-over-HTTPS in Firefox.

Updated with remarks from Mozilla.

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