After some high-profile crashes, Tesla’s Autopilot feature is under more scrutiny than ever. But what if it could save its owner’s life? One Model X owner claims Autopilot got him to the hospital during a medical emergency. It’s the kind of autonomous car story we all want to hear.
Joshua Neally, a 37-year-old attorney, was driving home from work last week in his Model X, reports Slate. The trip is from his office in Springfield, Missouri to his home in Branson, Missouri. It takes 45 minutes, and Neally has recently felt comfortable enough with his car’s Autopilot feature to use it during this journey.
About five miles into the drive, Neally felt something stiffen in his abdomen. At first, he thought it was a pulled muscle. Then it got worse, snaking upwards from his stomach until it felt like “a steel pole through [his] chest.” And it didn’t go away. Neally remembers calling his wife and saying that he should go to the emergency room.
Somehow, through the agony, he managed to reroute the Tesla’s navigation and the Autopilot feature helped the car drive him the 20-odd highway miles to a hospital. From the story:
Doctors in Branson told Neally later that he’d suffered a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal obstruction of a blood vessel in his lungs. They told him he was lucky to have survived. If you ask Neally, however, he’ll tell you he was lucky to be driving a Tesla. As he writhed in the driver’s seat, the vehicle’s software negotiated 20-plus highway miles to a hospital just off an exit ramp. He manually steered it into the parking lot and checked himself into the emergency room, where he was promptly treated. By night’s end he had recovered enough to go home.
Critics of Neally’s actions might point out that it would probably have been safer if he had just pulled over and called 911. Through the haze of pain, he said he was not in the right condition to be operating a moving vehicle, Autopilot or not. Tesla discourages people from removing their hands from the wheel or having any sort of distractions while using the car in Autopilot mode.
Tesla is navigating extremely tricky waters right now. Cars aren’t fully autonomous and should not be relied upon as such. Especially after Joshua D. Brown’s death, critics like Consumer Reports have suggested that Tesla disable the Autopilot feature until it fixes a few issues. However, Slate points out:
Yet Tesla insists that calls for it to disable autopilot are shortsighted. In fact, the company argues that the critics have it backward: Given that its internal testing data suggest the feature drives more safely than humans do, Tesla maintains that it would be irresponsible and dangerous not to offer autopilot to its customers.
It’s an interesting and ongoing discussion and there isn’t really a conclusion yet. But one of the main reasons for the discussion is because the technology is still in its adolescent stages. We’re also learning how to interact with it as well.
I’m glad that Neally was able to make it safely to the hospital. More than anything, he might be glad he bought a Tesla.