In a startling revelation, a former Tesla employee, Lukasz Krupski, has voiced his apprehensions regarding the safety of Tesla’s self-driving technology, casting a shadow over the company’s ambitions for autonomous vehicles on public roads. Krupski, who leaked critical data, including customer complaints about Tesla’s braking and self-driving software, to German newspaper Handelsblatt in May, expressed his frustrations with Tesla’s internal response to his concerns.
Despite numerous attempts to raise the alarm internally, Krupski claimed that his concerns had been disregarded, leaving him with no choice but to share his findings with the public. Tesla, as of the time of this report, has not provided any comments in response to these allegations.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has been a vocal advocate of the company’s self-driving technology, asserting, “Tesla has by far the best real-world AI.” However, in his first UK interview with the BBC, Krupski conveyed his reservations about how artificial intelligence (AI) was being utilized in Tesla’s autopilot service.
While Tesla’s autopilot feature offers assisted steering and parking, it still necessitates the presence of a driver in the seat with their hands on the wheel. Krupski expressed his doubts, stating, “I don’t think the hardware is ready, and the software is ready.” He emphasized the gravity of the situation, noting that the risks associated with autonomous experiments on public roads affect everyone, even those without a Tesla vehicle.
Krupski revealed that his findings within the company’s data indicated non-compliance with requirements for the safe operation of vehicles equipped with a certain level of autonomous or assistive-driving technology. Additionally, he disclosed that even Tesla employees had confided in him about instances of vehicles inexplicably braking in response to non-existent obstacles, a phenomenon referred to as “phantom braking.” Such occurrences were also documented in the customer complaints data he obtained.
Driven by a sense of responsibility, Krupski felt compelled to share his discoveries with data protection authorities. The United States Department of Justice initiated an investigation into Tesla’s claims regarding its assisted driving features as early as January. Tesla has encountered similar inquiries and scrutiny from agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, concerning its autopilot system.
German newspaper Handelsblatt exposed the “Tesla Files” after Krupski shared approximately 100GB of internal data that he had uncovered. The data protection authority in the Netherlands, home to Tesla’s European headquarters, confirmed its awareness of the data breach and its ongoing investigation into the matter.
Reflecting on the past six months, Krupski described the experience of being a whistleblower as “terrifying” and disclosed the toll it had taken on his sleep patterns. Nevertheless, his actions have not gone unnoticed, as he was honored with the Blueprint for Free Speech Whistleblowing Prize.
Jack Stilgoe, an associate professor at University College London specializing in autonomous vehicles, suggested that Krupski’s claims raised broader concerns about the technology. He highlighted the unique challenge of testing artificial intelligence in real-world conditions on open roads, where it coexists with other road users.
In response to the growing concerns surrounding self-driving technology, the UK Government announced plans for an Automated Vehicles Bill, aiming to establish a legal framework for self-driving cars in a speech in early November. The development of this bill will be closely monitored to address the evolving complexities of autonomous vehicle technology.