This week, the head of the company that has supplied image-recognition chips for Tesla’s autopilot system disclosed that the two were parting ways. While neither Mobileye nor Tesla pointed any fingers, it appears likely that Tesla pulled the plug — and that the fatal crash of a Tesla Model S in May loomed large in the decision.
The move was seen as the latest indication that Tesla was taking its autonomous vehicle systems in house, soup to nuts. In January, Tesla hired Jim Keller, the prominent chip engineer behind many Apple products.
The fatal crash has profound implications for the development of self-driving technology, and in particular for Tesla, which has positioned itself at forefront of this and nearly every other trend in the auto industry.
The crash in now subject of multiple investigations involving state and federal officials. Indeed, news of the break with Mobileye came on the same day that the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on the crash. In the interest of staying on top of this fast-moving story, here’s a brief history of the crash and its aftermath.
Fatal Autopilot Crash Timeline
The accident occurred on May 7 on remote state highway in Williston, Florida, but it did not make headlines until three weeks later, when, on June 30, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it would be investigating the role Tesla’s autopilot feature may have played in the crash. According to early reports, the Tesla — which was being driven by Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old entrepreneur — did not brake when a tractor-trailer traveling the opposite direction made a left in front of the car. The top of the Tesla was crushed when it drove under the undercarriage of the truck.
The same day Tesla issued its first public statement on the crash, in a post titled “A Tragic Loss.” The company stressed that drivers using the autopilot system were not supposed to cede control of their vehicles, noting that the vehicle itself warns drivers that the system “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.”
A week later, a second federal agency joined the investigation, the NTSB, which typically gets involved in crashes involving planes and other modes of mass-transit.
A few days later, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it was investigating whether Tesla violated securities law by not promptly telling investors about the fatal crash. Tesla reportedly offered a stock sale worth $2 billion in stock on May 18, including nearly 2.8 million shares sold by CEO Elon Musk. At the time, Musk said the company was unaware that the autopilot feature was engaged during the crash.
Amid growing calls for Tesla to disable its autopilot system, news came on July 14 that company executives were being summoned for a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. That hearing is slated for later this week.
On July 17, Musk expressed support for Tesla’s suppliers, tweeting: “want to thank both Bosch and MobilEye for their help and support in making Autopilot better. Please direct all criticism at Tesla.”
Three days later, Musk would issue his “Master Plan, Part Deux,” which was meant to be an update on the original long-range plan for the company. While the plan did seek to allay safety concerns in light of the crash, it focused primarily on a set of new ambitions, including creating solar roofs on vehicles; expanding its electric vehicle product line to include freight vehicles and other models; and developing a “fleet” model of Tesla ownership that would employ self-driving technology to allow drivers to rent out their vehicles when they’re not using them.
Some expressed the view that the master plan was an attempt to change the subject from the fatal crash and other company woes.
On July 26, the NTSB issued its preliminary report on the crash, confirming that the driver was using autopilot. The investigators also said that the vehicles was equipped with automatic emergency braking, which had apparently failed to engage. In addition, they determined that the vehicle was also going 74 miles per hour, above the 65 mph limit.
All three federal investigations remain ongoing.