The mishaps for Tesla's Autopilot have gotten a lot of attention, but the semi-autonomous driving technology has also had successes in helping drivers avoid crashes, and in at least one instance, a pedestrian.
On Wednesday night, a couple hours after posting the second part of his "Master Plan" for Tesla, Elon Musk tweeted a bit of good news: The automatic brakes on a Model S sedan saved a pedestrian, according to its driver.
The story, related by a Tesla owner in Washington D.C., tells of the driver being distracted by a siren on D.C.'s New York Avenue (Musk mistakenly tweeted it was New York itself). It was 10:30 p.m. at night, so quite dark out. According to the author of the email, a pedestrian dressed in dark clothing stepped out into the street while the driver was searching for the source of the siren. The car braked even before the driver saw the walker.
"I am not sure if I would have been able to stop before hitting him but I am so glad the car did," wrote the driver.
This, as the email's sender notes, comes after several weeks that have included multiple reports of Teslas crashing while allegedly being operated by the Autopilot feature included in the cars, including the first fatal crash involving a Tesla on Autopilot.
This has led some in the public and the press (including myself) to question whether Tesla's Autopilot tech should be on the road, unregulated as it's been, in what the company itself describes as a public beta. Tesla has countered with claims that Autopilot remains much safer than manual driving, though outside researchers say the company is overstating what those statistics prove.
Nonetheless, even when Tesla owners take to unofficial forums to express concern about Autopilot, many fellow Tesla drivers say they've had positive experiences more like the one Musk tweeted out. The author of the email Musk posted seems to agree, signing off by saying incidents like theirs aren't written about in the press, and thanking the Tesla CEO for "letting customers use auto pilot even though it is in beta."
Is this enough to prove Autopilot's beta should be on public roads? Not necessarily. Ideally, Tesla would offer up all its logs about the success and failures of Autopilot for review by the public, or at least for review by a regulatory body, to back up what the company is saying about the success of its beta program. Anecdotes, about both Autopilot's successes and its failures, aren't enough to fairly evaluate the experiment.
And to the author of the original email: here's press about the positive case, if you'd care to talk to me, my email's on Twitter. :)
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org