MILAN – A tragic “first” in the history of automotive technological evolution. It bounces off the Colorado where, in 2022, a Tesla employee – also an Elon Musk enthusiast – died following an accident due to the autonomous driving of the electric company. Hans von Ohain, 33 years old at the time of his death, was the victim of a skid on a country road. Initial indications had classified the case as “drunk driving”, because the young father and former Marine had just returned from an evening at a golf club with his friends. But then the investigation was reopened, probably to go down in history as the first case of death due to autonomous driving software.
Widow von Ohain summarized to Washington Post the meaning of things: “Musk sold a false sense of security. Regardless of how drunk Hans was, Musk demanded that the car could drive itself, better than a human.” But it seems that it didn’t go that way.
Tesla’s Full-self-driving was presented to the world as a solution to road accidents. With some cautions, remember the Daily Mail: continue to learn how to behave on the road and for this reason your hands should never be taken off the wheel.
That evening of May 16, 2022, alongside Hans there was Erik Rossiter, a survivor, who told how the car had previously behaved in a bizarre way, forcing the driver to intervene on the steering wheel to correct the trajectories set automatically. Von Ohain himself would have downplayed it: “It happens, every now and then.” A few hours later, however, those antics brought him against a tree, the impact of which sparked the deadly fire that engulfed the Model 3.
According to the testimony of the direct witness, Full-self-driving was activated. Unlike other forms of autonomous driving, this mode should be able to drive the car automatically from the beginning to the end of the journey and not only in some particular driving situations, for example on the motorway.
The fact that Hans’s blood alcohol level (0.26) was several times over the limit was established. But the widow’s depositions also said something else: that she blindly trusted the self-driving system, that she used it for every trip in order to feed the company’s data collection, that – unlike the woman – she had total trust enough to let yourself be driven even with your little son on board.
An enthusiasm for a technological system which now – according to investigators – could be held partly responsible for his death. Presiding over the investigation is the Colorado State Police with Sergeant Robert Madden, according to whom the fire was so violent (and in all likelihood fatal, unlike the impact) due to the car’s lithium batteries.
But why did the impact happen? From the tire marks on the road it appears there were no sudden maneuvers or braking attempts. Rather, it appears that the engine continued to spin the wheels after the impact with the tree. Traces of a crazed artificial intelligence. Evidence that autonomous driving was in control of the vehicle.
It remains difficult to ascertain this thesis, because the vehicle data was lost in the fire and was not automatically transmitted to Tesla, probably due to the out-of-field area in which everything happened. The case ended without a definitive truth, therefore, but with heavy clues.