In May 2016, about six months after Mr. Musk’s statements appeared in Fortune, a Model S owner, Joshua Brown, was killed in Florida when the autopilot failed to recognize a tractor-trailer intersection in front of him. His car had radar and a camera.

Mr Musk held a brief meeting with the autopilot team and briefly commented on the accident. He didn’t go into the details of what went wrong, but did tell the team that the company needs to work to make sure its cars won’t crash into, according to two people who attended the meeting.

Tesla later said the autopilot’s camera was unable to distinguish between the white truck and the bright sky during the crash. Tesla has never publicly stated why the radar didn’t prevent the accident. Radar technology, like cameras and lidar, is not flawless. However, most in the industry believe that you need as many types of sensors as possible.

Less than a month after the crash, Mr Musk said at an event hosted by Recode, a tech publication, that autonomous driving was “basically a problem solved” and that Teslas could already drive safer than humans. He didn’t mention the accident that killed Mr. Brown, though Tesla said in a blog post a few weeks later – titled “A Tragic Loss” – that she immediately reported the episode to federal regulators.

Although it’s not clear whether they were affected by the fatal accident, Mr Musk and Tesla soon showed renewed interest in radar, according to three engineers working on autopilot. The company began developing its own radar technology instead of using third-party sensors. The company hired Duc Vu, an expert in the field, from auto parts maker Delphi in October 2016.

But 16 months later, Mr Vu suddenly split from the company after arguing with another executive over a new wiring system in Tesla’s cars, the three people said. In the weeks and months that followed, other members of the radar team also left.

Over several months after these exits, Tesla reclassified the radar efforts as a research company rather than an active manufacturing company, the three people said.



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