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What does digital art have to do with sustainability?

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Minutes before midnight March 22, two art collectors got into a heated bidding war at a charity auction for a climate organization. The auction was happening online, but it was eliciting the same staggering dollar amounts and tense drama of an in-person auction house.

The item in contention was a single picture of a futuristic scene. The bidding had already exceeded $5 million, but Justin Sun, a 30-year-old tech entrepreneur, kept getting outbid by just $50. Ultimately, Sun offered an even $6 million and the auction was over. Sold, to the cryptocurrency millionaire.

His prize was a digital drawing by the artist beeple, who just a couple weeks earlier had sold a series of pieces for $69 million, the highest price paid for digital art. The auction was benefitting digital advocacy organization Open Earth Foundation, which ended up raising a total of $6.6 million. Beyond raising funds, the foundation aimed to raise awareness about the potential for digital technologies to address climate change, as well as their potential negative impact.

“Obviously, we landed at the right place at the right time,” said Martin Wainstein, executive director of Open Earth Foundation.

Blockchain-based non-fungible tokens (NFTs) recently have made a big splash in the art world and beyond. Fundamentally, they allow for the unique differentiation and ownership of digital goods. In addition to generating both headlines and confusion, NFTs have drawn attention to the high carbon footprint of certain blockchain applications. Cryptocurrency and digital art are riding high on the tech hype cycle right now, but the current conversation around NFTs raises a critical question for anyone seeking to use blockchains as a sustainability tool: Are blockchains bad for the planet? As with any tech tool, the short answer is that it depends.

Moving away from proof of work

Much of the perceived negative impact of blockchains comes from just two of them, Bitcoin and Etherium. These platforms are home to the most widely used forms of cryptocurrency, which makes them the most widely used blockchains in the world.

“We now have a misconception that blockchains are equal to energy and climate impact. That misconception comes from the fact that the two most important blockchains do [have high impact],” Wainstein said.

Blockchains are, by nature, decentralized data records. They include information distributed across a wide network of servers. In order to maintain trust in the veracity of the data, the network needs some way to validate new information. Because every server in the network needs to accept that the new information is authentic, this feature is called a consensus mechanism. Bitcoin and Etherium both use a consensus mechanism called proof of work, in which computers solve a bunch of complex math problems, and the first one to reach a correct answer adds the next piece of information to the chain. Solving the math problems comes down to processing power, so it uses a whopping amount of electricity.

We now have a misconception that blockchains are equal to energy and climate impact. That misconception comes from the fact that the 2 most important blockchains do [have high impact].

“Bitcoin has a huge and unsustainable energy-consuming pattern. It’s a monster, and we’ve got to stop it,” Wainstein said.

There are two ways to lessen the impact of blockchains that use a proof of work consensus mechanism. The first is not to use them at all. Many blockchains use alternatives that are far less energy-intensive. For example, a proof of stake mechanism requires some sort of collateral to be put up (or staked) in order for a member of the network to add new information. Etherium is already in the process of switching to a proof of stake model.

Many sustainability applications that rely on blockchain technology are already avoiding proof-of-work-based blockchains in favor of more planet-friendly alternatives.

“In most cases, those blockchains are using other kinds of consensus mechanisms where the energy consumption is just not a big deal,” Jesse Morris, chief commercial officer of Energy Web, an organization that helps companies manage electricity with digital technologies.

Regen Network, a market for landowners to sell ecosystem services, is based on the public Cosmos platform, which uses proof of stake. IBM’s supply chain tracking efforts are based on a private blockchain called Hyperledger, which uses a mechanism called Byzantine Fault Tolerance.

“First focus on what it is you need to solve, then find the right blockchain for meeting that need,” Wainstein advised.

A Paris Agreement for blockchain

The other way to lessen the impact of blockchains is to ensure that the energy used is completely renewable. On April 7, a coalition led by Energy Web announced the Crypto Climate Accord, modeled loosely on the Paris Agreement. The top-level goal of the accord is for all of the world’s blockchains to be powered by 100 percent renewables by 2025. Like the Paris Agreement, this broad pact is pathway-agnostic. It pushes parties to sign onto ambitious goals and then meet those goals in whatever way makes the most sense for them.

“What we’re trying to do here is not about a single company, we want the whole industry to go green as early as 2025,” Morris said.

To make blockchains greener, the coalition plans to encourage the same strategies that have enabled tech giants such as Google and Microsoft to make commitments of 100 percent renewable energy for their data centers, such as power matching and smart load management.

“What the tech companies are doing is exactly what crypto can do,” Morris said.

Where do NFTs fit in?

NFTs may seem tangential to blockchain’s sustainability applications, because they’re mostly being used for art sales right now. However, just like blockchain overall, the potential uses extend far beyond the initial starting point.

“Art is the first mainstream adoption of it, but there have been many, many instances of people building NFTS for all sorts of different applications,” said Joshua Bijiak, chief technology officer of Creol, a startup that offers blockchain-based carbon credits.

An NFT attests digitally to the unique properties of a given asset, and art is far from the only asset with unique properties. It might eventually be possible to generate an NFT associated with a specific good that indicates the precise energy mix being used at the time it was produced, distinguishing it from a similar good produced just a few hours later.

As with many blockchain solutions, there still needs to be some process to enter physical products into a digital system, but many sustainability assets already are traded entirely in online marketplace. For instance, carbon offsets. An NFT could be used to record the unique attributes of a carbon offset project, helping to address issues of double counting.

For the recent climate NFT auction, the organizers generated unique offsets from the Verra registry that were themselves NFTs. That’s why the team at Open Earth Foundation was enthusiastic about the auction, even before its $6.6-million windfall. It highlighted the promise of using blockchain, not just the peril.

“It’s empowering things that we couldn’t do before in all sectors: currency, art, carbon, the planet; and we’ll continue seeing that, there’s no doubt about it,” Wainstein said.

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Source: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/what-does-digital-art-have-do-sustainability

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“Lavish P.” Shows Us That Law Enforcement Isn’t Taking Autopilot Abuse Seriously

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A couple days ago, a San Francisco man got himself arrested for driving around in a Tesla Model 3. Unlike most of us who would get pulled over for speeding (hey, it’s a fun car and it’s quick), Param Sharma got into trouble for turning on Autopilot and climbing into the back. The problem? He’s been doing this for months, had a run-in with law enforcement for this before, and started doing it again as soon as he got out of jail.

For those unfamiliar, Autopilot is only a driver-assist feature that most Tesla vehicles have. It maintains speed, stops for vehicles or objects in front of it (usually), and holds the car in the center of its lane. It’s not a perfect system, and isn’t safe to operate without constant driver attention. If it makes a mistake, you have to be ready to be able to take over quickly, so sitting in the back is quite dangerous (and illegal).

Before we get into what law enforcement is doing wrong here, let’s talk a bit about the Autopilot abuse we’ve been seeing from this guy in the past.

He Appears To Be Controversial Internet Personality “Lavish P.,” Who Has A History Of Doing This

A number of websites say he’s YouTube’s controversial “Lavish P.”, a man who likes to flaunt wealth on his YouTube channel. He’s known for referring to people who can’t afford luxury goods as “peasants,” and is proud of driving a Tesla without a driver. Subsequent media interviews (more on this below) make it pretty clear that he’s the same guy who made these videos:

He claims to own several 2021 Teslas, but claims that the Model 3 is the only one that gives him a good screen to look at while he abuses Autopilot and rides in the back. In this video and others, he’s always talking about how he’s better than the “Blue Collars” who do their own driving. He also claims that he once had a chauffeur who drove his Rolls Royce, but that the guy had gas and didn’t get along with him. “Computers don’t fart, bruh,” he said.

In another video, we see how he’s doing what he does. While he claims to have the Full Self Driving Beta (FSD Beta), the visualizations on his screen are not consistent with the FSD Beta’s. He has the driver’s seatbelt buckled without him in the seat, and he occasionally leans into the front to wiggle the steering wheel and prevent “nag” from stopping him.

Screenshot from one of the YouTube videos showing how he tricks Autopilot into working without a driver. Seatbelt is buckled, and he reaches up to deal with “nag”.

He Got A Citation (Without Arrest) For This In April

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) told the San Francisco Chronicle that they found him doing this in April. At the time, they gave him a ticket for illegally misusing the feature.

People who know Autopilot’s limitations know how dangerous this is, as it could not only kill the driver, but other people on or near the road. Autopilot isn’t inherently dangerous, of course, but it can make big mistakes at just the wrong time. If someone isn’t there to steer and take control of the pedals, disaster can strike. Most of us who are familiar with the system think it’s arrest-worthy on the first offense, like with this guy in Florida who sat on top of his car while a Cadillac feature kept the vehicle between the lines. [Editor’s note: As someone with the same version of Tesla Autopilot, I can’t imagine trying to pull such a stunt. It could end very badly very easily.]

That CHP decided to let the guy go with a ticket he could contest in court or just pay shows that they didn’t take this very seriously.

He Did It Again Immediately After Posting Bail, And Is Still Doing It

After getting out of jail, Sharma gave KTVU an interview, in which he expressed that he thought it was perfectly acceptable to abuse Autopilot like this.

He told the reporter that his next court date is July 6th, and that he plans to keep climbing into the back until at least then. He says he always drives a route in the front seat first to make sure it works well before riding in the back, and that he’s been “brake checked before really hard” without a collision, so therefore it must be safe to do what he does.

“Elon Musk really knows what he’s doing, and I think people are just tripping, and they’re scared of the future,” he said, before vowing to never stop abusing the feature. “I paid ten thousand for the Full Self Driving Feature, and it does what it’s designed to do….”

He didn’t stop there, though. The next day, he showed off his “self driving” Tesla for KTVU. He claims that he bought a brand new one to replace the one that was stuck in impound, but note that the Model 3 doesn’t have temp tags.

So, he’s not only continuing to do this, but he’s doing it on TV, and nobody is stopping him.

Law Enforcement Isn’t Taking This As Seriously As They Should

If I took a walk in San Francisco with my rifle, even safely slung from my shoulder and not pointed at anybody, you can bet that within minutes I’d face a swarm of law enforcement officers who would quickly arrest me, and I’d be lucky to not get shot by them. California and San Francisco take this perceived danger to the public extremely seriously — in fact, so seriously that they’d even arrest me for possessing it in an apartment (assuming I rented one there — I don’t). Mere possession of an unloaded “assault weapon,” even secured in a gun safe, is intolerable to California authorities, because I could hypothetically hurt people with it. It’s that big of a deal to them because they don’t want people getting killed.

But when Param Sharma did something far more dangerous, the automotive equivalent to pointing a loaded gun at strangers on the street, he got a citation for the first offense. For the second offense, he got arrested, but got out within hours. Now, he continues to do it, even on television, and he’s still a free man. He could be doing it right now, with no further consequences.

I’m not trying to beat up California for their harsh gun laws here. I get it. Guns frighten people and some people really do misuse them, so it’s not a completely unfounded fear people have. There’s at least some logic in play there. I just wanted to illustrate what it looks like when they take an issue seriously, so we can compare it to this situation.

What completely and totally baffles my mind here is that they’d be so easygoing when a person presents a much greater threat to public safety. One Autopilot or camera malfunction, and he could kill dozens of people on the freeway. He could end up sending 4,000 pounds of steel, aluminum, and batteries through some kids’ bedrooms before he could climb back up front. One small computer error and he could run down dozens of pedestrians before he even has a chance to react.

We know that the software isn’t ready to run without human supervision, and that it will eventually surprise him with a malfunction. It really is more dangerous than someone randomly firing a gun in the city would be, and he’s out on bail continuing to do it and brag about it on TV.

Does that seem right to you?

It makes ZERO sense for safety advocates and public officials to engage in hand-wringing about the safety of Autopilot, and try to blame Tesla for this, when authorities seem almost completely unwilling to punish the people who willfully abuse the product and endanger the public with it. If this continues, expect dozens or hundreds of other people to do this because they think they can get away with it like Sharma does.

When that happens, it won’t be Tesla’s fault. It will lay squarely at the feet of a broken criminal justice system with its priorities completely out of whack.

Featured image: screenshot from the “Lavish P.” YouTube Channel.


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The Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe E-Bike — CleanTechnica Review

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Vintage Electric Bikes aims to bring the classic styles of vintage motorbikes to the emerging world of electric bikes and by all measures, the have succeeded in grand style. The company brought us the Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe and we ran it through the ringer to see how it held up to daily use.

Disclaimer: Vintage Electric Bikes provided the Cafe to the author free of charge for the purposes of this review. 

Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe E-Bike

The Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe is a classic in every sense of the word. Gorgeous lines swoop across the frame, with rich wood providing depth and softening the otherwise hard metallic feel of the chromoly steel frame. The frame itself is anchored by a retro-inspired battery case that conjures images and sounds of a classic motorcycle engine.

Stepping back from the details, the Cafe is a beautiful e-bike that’s equally at home on display in the living room as it would be in the garage. A set of perforated leather grips serve to further soften up the aesthetics while proving some cushion at the human touch points. The leather tones round out the look of a classic motorcycle, with the rich tones of the hide tying nicely into the wood on both color schemes.

Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe E-Bike

Its soft lines and casual look belie the impressive powertrain and performance of this electrified two-wheel hot rod. Popping the hood of the Cafe, a 750-watt rear hub motor is the powerplant and while that’s a very typical power rating for e-bikes in the US, Vintage Electric Motors has an ace up its sleeve.

Vintage Electric boasts that its proprietary Vintorque Drivetrain Technology unleashes the beast in its motors, resulting in faster acceleration and a more rapid response to rider input. The specs don’t tell the tale here, as many e-bikes use 750-watt rear hub motors and the 70 Nm of torque the motor on the Cafe pushes out won’t set any records. In reality, there is a noticeable difference in how quickly the motor responds to rider input.

Pedaling up and down some of the steepest roads this side of the Mississippi, we found the Cafe to feel more powerful than any other rear hub motor we’ve tested. We attribute that to a few things. First off, the Cafe boasts a torque sensor to gauge rider input. This is something we typically only see on higher end e-bikes like the Cafe. The torque sensor provides a much more accurate signal for rider input to the motor controller by gauging how hard the pedals are being depressed. Most e-bikes simply use a cadence sensor to determine how fast the pedals are spinning, quickly resulting in incorrect readings when the gears are shifted into lower gears.

Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe E-Bike

Taking that signal and translating it into an accurate signal to the motor is where the real magic happens. After a number of rides on the bike, it was immediately clear that it responds much faster to changes in pedaling pressure when climbing hills, pushing out an appropriate amount of power based on the amount of effort the rider is putting into pedaling, and cutting power to the motor when pedaling stops.

The Cafe might look casual, but in reality, the riding stance of the bike is quite aggressive. It’s similar to what you would expect to find on a speed bike, with a forward-leaning posture. Hopping onto the bike, it’s immediately clear this thing means business, slotting naturally into dense urban environments as well as casual park trails.

Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe E-Bike

The overall look and feel of the Cafe is extremely polished, and that’s literally the case with the front light. Its housing is a brilliant polished aluminum that blends in perfectly with the polished aluminum handlebars, stem, and top cap. It makes it feel like you’re stepping into a vintage convertible sports car every time you get on for a ride.

The LCD controller and under-seat rear LEDs are rather basic and don’t fit the quality of the rest of the bike, but they are more than sufficient at fulfilling their purpose.

The Cafe is clearly suited to a higher end clientele who are looking for a bike with top of the line specs and performance. Its form factor makes it well-suited to commuting across town, riding down to the beach, or around at the park on a bike with a one of a kind aesthetic.

Head over to the Cafe’s online home at Vintage Electric Bikes for all the juicy details, gallery photos, and to order one for yourself.

Vintage Electric Bikes Cafe E-Bike Specs

  • Motor: 750 watt rear hub motor w/70 Nm torque
  • Battery: 500 Wh removable battery
  • Charge Time: 2 hours
  • Range: 20-60 miles per charge
  • Sensor: Torque sensor
  • Top Speed: 28 mph (class 3)
  • Tires: 29″ X 2.0″ Schwalbe Fat Frank w/ kevlar guard
  • Brakes: Promax Lucid front and rear hydraulic disc brakes
  • Gearing: Shimano Deore Shadow+ derailleur w/10 speed Deore shifters and Shimano SLX 11-34 freewheel
  • Lights: Integrated front and rear Supernova 6v lights
  • Sizes: Small, Medium, Large
  • Colors: Skyline Bronze or Golden Gate Red
  • Weight: 53 lb
  • Price: $3,995

All images credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica


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Houston Area Tesla Crash: NTSB Preliminary Report Confirms Tesla’s Statements, Raises Questions About Local Investigation

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A few days ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report for the investigation of the April 17th crash of a Tesla near Houston, Texas. The NTSB’s findings confirm statements Tesla made and show that there was indeed a driver in the seat before the crash. The preliminary report also raises questions about statements made by responders after the crash.

What We Learned From Tesla So Far

The recently released preliminary report gives us a quick summary of what they’ve found so far about the accident. While it’s very informative, we do have to keep in mind that the investigation continues. It all seems to line up pretty well, though, with what Tesla’s VP of engineering told us during the Q1 earnings call:

“Regarding the crash in Houston specifically, we worked directly with the local authorities, NTSB, and NHTSA wherever applicable, and whenever they reach out to us for help directly on the engineering level and whenever else we can support.

“In that vein, we did a study with them over the past week to understand what happened in that particular crash and what we’ve learned from that effort was that autosteer did not and could not engage on the road conditions as it was designed. Our adaptive cruise control only engaged when a driver was buckled and above 5 miles per hour, and it only accelerated to 30 miles per hour over the distance before the car crashed. As well, adaptive cruise control disengaged the cars fully to complete to a stop when the driver’s seatbelt was unbuckled.

“Through further investigation of the vehicle and the accident remains, we inspected the car with NTSB and NHTSA and the local police and were able to find that the steering wheel was indeed deformed, leading to a likelihood that someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash and all seatbelts post-crash were found to be unbuckled.

“We were unable to recover the data from the SD card at the time of impact, but the local authorities are working on doing that, and we await their report.”

Just to clarify, as I did in this other article, they were talking about a test vehicle that Tesla ran to help NHTSA complete their investigation. They determined that lane centering would not activate on that particular road, and they confirmed that traffic aware cruise control (TACC, aka Active/Adaptive Cruise Control or ACC) could not have propelled the vehicle to faster than 30 MPH in the distance the vehicle was known to have driven prior to crashing. Also, the feature wouldn’t work anyway, as the occupants were not buckled in at the time of the crash and ACC won’t work without a seatbelt fastened.

More importantly, though, Tesla was aware that there was evidence that a driver was in the driver’s seat at the time of the collision, which contradicted an early statement made by local law enforcement. Local Constable (an elected law enforcement/court office) Mark Herman said that they were “100% certain” that there was nobody in the driver’s seat.

The NTSB report confirms all of this and gives us some more detail.

The Preliminary Report

Photograph of the crash site, provided by National Transportation Safety Board (Public Domain)

The second paragraph gives us some very important information:

“The crash trip originated at the owner’s residence near the end of a cul-de-sac. Footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the car’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat. The car leaves and travels about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.”

Most importantly, it’s clear now that the vehicle did indeed have a driver. The owner was seen on camera getting into the driver’s door, and the passenger into the passenger’s door. Neither of them got into the back or were seen vacating their seats in the driveway. After that, the vehicle quickly accelerated, going 550 feet and hitting several things before running into the tree.

While CleanTechnica‘s writers have already dismissed the idea of Autopilot abuse, this is the clearest confirmation yet that Autopilot was not a factor in this accident.

Another piece of information thoroughly rules out TACC abuse:

“The crash damaged the front of the car’s high-voltage lithium-ion battery case, where a fire started. The fire destroyed the car, including the onboard storage device inside the infotainment console (figure 2).”

Photograph of the vehicle’s wreckage, provided by National Transportation Safety Board (Public Domain)

The level of damage here is not consistent at all with a 30 MPH collision, and that’s the fastest TACC could have brought the vehicle in 550 feet. Clearly, the vehicle was under the full manual control of the driver.

The Local Investigation Should Be Treated With Skepticism For Now

NTSB tells us that there’s a separate local investigation into the accident being conducted by Constable Mark Herman and other local officials, and this is the same guy who told media that his investigators were “100% certain” there was nobody in the driver’s seat that night. Since then, his office has refused to release records detailing how they determined this when video evidence and a deformed steering wheel both later disproved it.

It could be an honest mistake based on limited evidence, as they might not have seen the video or the wheel before the Constable made that statement. If that’s the case, though, I don’t see why their office won’t release public records as required by Texas law. Sure, active criminal investigations can be exempted, but there’s clearly no living person to prosecute, and thus no actual criminal investigation. Hopefully they’ll release that information soon.

At this point, my opinion is that media outlets that were led astray by his initial statements would be smart to take statements from his office with a grain of salt, and compare them to the findings of other investigating entities, until we get a reasonable explanation for the erroneous early statements. [Editor’s note: I would also advise that such media outlets have people who understand how Tesla vehicles work covering Tesla news. It was clear to many Tesla owners very quickly that the statement didn’t make sense and early coverage didn’t match the technology. I’ll write more about this in a separate piece. —Zach]

Remaining Question: How Did The Driver End Up In The Back?

This is a remaining question that we don’t have an answer for yet, and it’s entirely possible that we may never know.

One possibility this preliminary report uncovers is that impacts prior to the final crash could have resulted in the driver being thrown to the back. It says they went over a curb, struck a drainage culvert, and then a raised manhole cover before the final impact with the tree. The curb seems pretty flat in the photos, but we don’t know how big or raised the culvert and manhole covers are.

Other possibilities, like the driver attempting to escape flames, are certainly still plausible. Wilder things I’ve seen people posit, like a third person who fled the scene, are pretty well debunked at this point, though.

Featured image: Photograph of the crash site (cropped), provided by National Transportation Safety Board (Public Domain)


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Houston Area Tesla Crash: NTSB Preliminary Report Confirms Tesla’s Statements, Raises Questions About Local Investigation

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A few days ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report for the investigation of the April 17th crash of a Tesla near Houston, Texas. The NTSB’s findings confirm statements Tesla made and show that there was indeed a driver in the seat before the crash. The preliminary report also raises questions about statements made by responders after the crash.

What We Learned From Tesla So Far

The recently released preliminary report gives us a quick summary of what they’ve found so far about the accident. While it’s very informative, we do have to keep in mind that the investigation continues. It all seems to line up pretty well, though, with what Tesla’s VP of engineering told us during the Q1 earnings call:

“Regarding the crash in Houston specifically, we worked directly with the local authorities, NTSB, and NHTSA wherever applicable, and whenever they reach out to us for help directly on the engineering level and whenever else we can support.

“In that vein, we did a study with them over the past week to understand what happened in that particular crash and what we’ve learned from that effort was that autosteer did not and could not engage on the road conditions as it was designed. Our adaptive cruise control only engaged when a driver was buckled and above 5 miles per hour, and it only accelerated to 30 miles per hour over the distance before the car crashed. As well, adaptive cruise control disengaged the cars fully to complete to a stop when the driver’s seatbelt was unbuckled.

“Through further investigation of the vehicle and the accident remains, we inspected the car with NTSB and NHTSA and the local police and were able to find that the steering wheel was indeed deformed, leading to a likelihood that someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash and all seatbelts post-crash were found to be unbuckled.

“We were unable to recover the data from the SD card at the time of impact, but the local authorities are working on doing that, and we await their report.”

Just to clarify, as I did in this other article, they were talking about a test vehicle that Tesla ran to help NHTSA complete their investigation. They determined that lane centering would not activate on that particular road, and they confirmed that traffic aware cruise control (TACC, aka Active/Adaptive Cruise Control or ACC) could not have propelled the vehicle to faster than 30 MPH in the distance the vehicle was known to have driven prior to crashing. Also, the feature wouldn’t work anyway, as the occupants were not buckled in at the time of the crash and ACC won’t work without a seatbelt fastened.

More importantly, though, Tesla was aware that there was evidence that a driver was in the driver’s seat at the time of the collision, which contradicted an early statement made by local law enforcement. Local Constable (an elected law enforcement/court office) Mark Herman said that they were “100% certain” that there was nobody in the driver’s seat.

The NTSB report confirms all of this and gives us some more detail.

The Preliminary Report

Photograph of the crash site, provided by National Transportation Safety Board (Public Domain)

The second paragraph gives us some very important information:

“The crash trip originated at the owner’s residence near the end of a cul-de-sac. Footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the car’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat. The car leaves and travels about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.”

Most importantly, it’s clear now that the vehicle did indeed have a driver. The owner was seen on camera getting into the driver’s door, and the passenger into the passenger’s door. Neither of them got into the back or were seen vacating their seats in the driveway. After that, the vehicle quickly accelerated, going 550 feet and hitting several things before running into the tree.

While CleanTechnica‘s writers have already dismissed the idea of Autopilot abuse, this is the clearest confirmation yet that Autopilot was not a factor in this accident.

Another piece of information thoroughly rules out TACC abuse:

“The crash damaged the front of the car’s high-voltage lithium-ion battery case, where a fire started. The fire destroyed the car, including the onboard storage device inside the infotainment console (figure 2).”

Photograph of the vehicle’s wreckage, provided by National Transportation Safety Board (Public Domain)

The level of damage here is not consistent at all with a 30 MPH collision, and that’s the fastest TACC could have brought the vehicle in 550 feet. Clearly, the vehicle was under the full manual control of the driver.

The Local Investigation Should Be Treated With Skepticism For Now

NTSB tells us that there’s a separate local investigation into the accident being conducted by Constable Mark Herman and other local officials, and this is the same guy who told media that his investigators were “100% certain” there was nobody in the driver’s seat that night. Since then, his office has refused to release records detailing how they determined this when video evidence and a deformed steering wheel both later disproved it.

It could be an honest mistake based on limited evidence, as they might not have seen the video or the wheel before the Constable made that statement. If that’s the case, though, I don’t see why their office won’t release public records as required by Texas law. Sure, active criminal investigations can be exempted, but there’s clearly no living person to prosecute, and thus no actual criminal investigation. Hopefully they’ll release that information soon.

At this point, my opinion is that media outlets that were led astray by his initial statements would be smart to take statements from his office with a grain of salt, and compare them to the findings of other investigating entities, until we get a reasonable explanation for the erroneous early statements. [Editor’s note: I would also advise that such media outlets have people who understand how Tesla vehicles work covering Tesla news. It was clear to many Tesla owners very quickly that the statement didn’t make sense and early coverage didn’t match the technology. I’ll write more about this in a separate piece. —Zach]

Remaining Question: How Did The Driver End Up In The Back?

This is a remaining question that we don’t have an answer for yet, and it’s entirely possible that we may never know.

One possibility this preliminary report uncovers is that impacts prior to the final crash could have resulted in the driver being thrown to the back. It says they went over a curb, struck a drainage culvert, and then a raised manhole cover before the final impact with the tree. The curb seems pretty flat in the photos, but we don’t know how big or raised the culvert and manhole covers are.

Other possibilities, like the driver attempting to escape flames, are certainly still plausible. Wilder things I’ve seen people posit, like a third person who fled the scene, are pretty well debunked at this point, though.

Featured image: Photograph of the crash site (cropped), provided by National Transportation Safety Board (Public Domain)


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Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2021/05/13/houston-area-crash-ntsb-preliminary-report-confirms-teslas-statements-raises-questions-about-local-investigation/

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