Loop by Elon Musk gets Autopilot — but an intruder

Less than two weeks after its official launch, The Boring Company’s Loop system in Las Vegas had its first security breach.

The Loop’s operations manager and an official from Clark County revealed that the Loop had received emails indicating that an “unauthorized vehicle”, joined the underground fleet of Tesla taxis. TechCrunch obtained the emails under open records laws.

These emails offer new insights into Loop’s operations beyond the intrusion. They include the surprising dependence on non-Tesla vehicles for their system, the plans to let Tesla cars use the Autopilot driver assistant system, confirmation from within the company ranks that this technology is not fully autonomous, and the plan to allow Tesla vehicles access to its Autopilot driver assist system.

To deal with the intrusion, the Boring Company (TBC), called Las Vegas Metro Police. One email states that the driver of the unauthorized vehicle cooperated and was eventually taken out of the system.

Despite the fact that there weren’t any injuries or deaths from the security breach it could have been embarrassing for TBC. TBC has praised the safety and security of its $53million system to the LVCC.

TBC and LVCC have a management agreement that the system must contain “physical barriers” to prevent unauthorised vehicles from entering the tunnels. These include concrete bollards around its stations and security gates along roads leading to the system.

TBC and LVCC did not respond to questions about the incident. TechCrunch may update this article if any party replies to inquiries.

The Autopilot program has a shot

TechCrunch’s emails offer more than thrill-seeking trespassers.

These emails include plans for TBC to expand the number of Tesla cars in the LVCC Loop, from 62 vehicles to 70 and allow Tesla Autopilot technology to be used. TBC had previously been required to turn off all driver assistance technology on its vehicles. These technologies are controlled by humans drivers.

Seven active safety technologies will be required to operate the new operations: automatic emergency brake, front and side collision alerts, obstacle aware acceleration, blind spot monitoring, lane deviation avoidance, emergency Lane Depart Warning, and two “full Autopilot” technologies: traffic aware cruise control and lane centering.

TBC explained why Autopilot is used in a June letter sent to Clark County Department of Building & Fire Prevention. TechCrunch also received the email.

Steve Davis, president of TBC, stated that disabling these features “actively removes an additional layer of safety” from a “proven road-legal technology.” Davis cited Tesla’s Safety Report, which claims that Tesla drivers who used Autopilot had fewer crashes than those driving without Autopilot. Davis wrote, “As shown… Disabling these safety features in Tesla cars increases the probability of an accident.”

After a series of accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened last week a safety investigation into this technology.

Jerry Stueve (director of Clark County’s building and fire protection) replied to the email, “We will consider this, but it may help us in our evaluation. If you can define the term autodrive’ and its meaning, it might be helpful in our assessment of this request.”

Davis replied, “Accorded that Autopilot is sometimes unclear and could mean different things depending upon the vehicle and situation.” (In this, he apparently disagrees with his boss, Elon Musk, who has called criticism of the Autopilot name as misleading “idiotic.”)

“Autopilot” can be confusing and could refer to many things, depending on what the situation is.” Steve Davis, TBC

Davis continued, “These vehicles are neither autonomous nor self-driving.” The Tesla Autopilot feature and other active safety features provide additional safety, but the driver must still be attentive to the controls.

Autopilot versus autonomous driving

It is crucial to make this distinction, since it seems that it contradicts what TBC promised LVCC when it pitched the Loop system. TBC stated in its May 2019 land-use application that “Tesla autonomous electric vehicles (AEVs),” and would transport passengers through express underground tunnels to three underground stations.

In July 2019, a planning document stated that “Utilizing autonomous electrical vehicles in underground tunnels will be a unique transport solution that will minimize disturbances and conflicts to existing buildings, transportation systems, and other facilities.” Since then, similar language has been used in application for loops across Las Vegas with many stations.

TechCrunch signed a January management agreement with LVCC, TBC. It stated that: “[The LVCC] purchased the People Mover System in part because the People Mover System vehicles can operate autonomously… This Agreement acknowledges the intention for the System’s move from driver-operated vehicles to autonomous operations, and allows for a fee renegotiation no later than December 31, 2021 to incorporate this transition in operations.”

This deadline seems now almost certain to be missed. Davis was informed by Stueve in June that the autonomous operation approval would require thorough scrutiny and testing. It could be a lengthy process.

In reply, Davis wrote: “I want to make sure that it is clear that we are not asking for autonomous or self-driving features/operations.”

The Loop: Humans

There are two problems. The first is the possibility that Tesla’s Autopilot may be incapable of operating without a driver in some time. A second and perhaps more important challenge for the Loop is its dependence on its drivers to comply with safety standards regarding underground transportation systems. These requirements are set out in national standards. Regardless of whether they are using monorails, subways, or electric cars, passengers must feel safe during power outages and fires.

TechCrunch obtained the LVCC Loop’s base of design document along with emails. It states that “[our] trained drivers serve the system’s main layer of safety.” Drivers’ actions to guide passengers in safe and proper directions during an emergency are the main risk mitigation measures.

TechCrunch has also obtained documents from BFP that confirm the above. The driver may assist passengers in deboarding and walk them to exits. The driver may give verbal directions and assist passengers. However, the driver must ensure that every passenger follows closely as they walk ahead.

TBC states that drivers are responsible for monitoring the Autopilot’s performance and for responding to passengers who behave badly or unruly. Davis wrote in June that the Loop will include drivers to ensure there are always people who can oversee active safety features and take over steering and braking as necessary.

TechCrunch did not find any information or emails describing a timeline or path for TBC in order to become fully autonomous.

TBC answered a question about how Loop would meet safety standards for autonomous systems from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

It will be only time to see if what TBC tells Clark County or what it tells LVCC is closer towards how the Loop will function in the future.

If the Loop cars aren’t yet driverless can the LVCC expect them to all be Tesla Models, even if they don’t have the ability? Perhaps not.

The Loop must also comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. TBC executives informed Clark County officials that they were planning to purchase an ADA non-Tesla electric vehicle to use for the LVCC loop.

Although it did not identify the model of the Tropos Motors Able electric utility car, the low-range battery is the same as that used in the email. TBC and Tropos did not respond to queries.

Publited at Mon, 30 August 2021 16:59.04 +0000

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