Putting the Tesla HEPA Filter and Bioweapon Defense Mode to the Test

Air pollution has a significant and pervasive impact on public health. According to the World Health Organization, it is now considered “the world’s largest single environmental health risk,” with more than three million people dying every year as a result. This is more than twice the number of people that die in vehicle accidents each year. Health and safety are important to us. Just as we’ve designed Model S and Model X to avoid collisions or protect their occupants when one happens, we felt compelled to protect them against the statistically more relevant hazard of air pollution*. Inspired by the air filtration systems used in hospitals, clean rooms, and the space industry, we developed a HEPA filtration system capable of stripping the outside air of pollen, bacteria, and pollution before they enter the cabin and systematically scrubbing the air inside the cabin to eliminate any trace of these particles. The end result is a filtration system hundreds of times more efficient than standard automotive filters, capable of providing the driver and her passengers with the best possible cabin air quality no matter what is happening in the environment around them.

The air filtration system was put to the test in real-world environments from California freeways during rush hour, to smelly marshes, landfills, and cow pastures in the central valley of California, to major cities in China. We wanted to ensure that it captured fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, as well as bacteria, viruses, pollen and mould spores. We then decided to take things a step further and test the complete system as we would on the road, but in an environment where we could precisely control and carefully monitor atmospheric conditions. A Model X was placed in a large bubble contaminated with extreme levels of pollution (1,000 µg/m3of PM2.5 vs. the EPA’s “good” air quality index limit of 12 µg/m3). We then closed the falcon doors and activated Bioweapon Defense Mode.

The plot below shows the subsequent evolution in pollution levels inside the vehicle and inside the bubble. In less than two minutes, the HEPA filtration system had scrubbed the air in Model X, bringing pollution levels from an extremely dangerous 1,000 µg/m3 to levels so low as to be undetectable (below the noise floor) by our instruments, allowing us to remove our gas masks and breathe fresh air while sitting inside a bubble of pollution. Not only did the vehicle system completely scrub the cabin air, but in the ensuing minutes, it began to vacuum the air outside the car as well, reducing PM2.5 levels by 40%. In other words, Bioweapon Defense Mode is not a marketing statement, it is real. You can literally survive a military grade bio-attack by sitting in your car.

Moreover, it will also clean the air outside your car, making things better for those around you. And while this test happened to be done with a Model X, the same would be true of the new Model S now in production.

Tesla will continue to improve the micro-geometry and chemical passivation defences in the primary and secondary filters, which are easily replaceable so this will get better the longer you own your car. Suggestions for improvement are welcome.

* According to the World Health Organization, average annual PM2.5 levels (the most dangerous form of pollution) reach 56 µg/m3 in Beijing, 25 µg/m3 in Mexico City, 21 µg/m3 in Hong Kong, 20 µg/m3 in Los Angeles, 20 µg/m3 in Berlin, 17 µg/m3 in Paris, and 16 µg/m3 in London. Based on the findings of a 2013 study conducted at Harvard, these levels of pollution would result in population-averaged life expectancy reductions of 23 months in Beijing, 10 months in Mexico City, 9 months in Hong Kong, 8 months in Berlin and Los Angeles, and 7 months in Paris and London.

Tesla Autopilot

Tesla Autopilot, later marketed as Enhanced Autopilot after a second hardware version started to be shipped, is an advanced driver-assistance system feature offered by Tesla that has lane centeringadaptive cruise control, self-parking, ability to automatically change lanes without requiring driver steering, and enables the car to be summoned to and from a garage or parking spot. Planned improvements to Enhanced Autopilot include transitioning from one freeway to another and exiting the freeway when your destination is near.

As an upgrade above and beyond Enhanced Autopilot’s capabilities, the company’s stated intent is to offer full self-driving at a future time, acknowledging that legal, regulatory, and technical hurdles must be overcome to achieve this goal.[2] As of February 2018, Tesla indicates that a demonstration of a self-driving coast to coast drive will be ready in three to six months.[3]

Image result for tesla autopilot


Autopilot was first offered on October 9, 2014, for Tesla Model S, followed by the Model X upon its release.[4] Autopilot was included within a “Tech Package” option. At that time Autopilot features included semi-autonomous drive and parking capabilities.[5][6][7] Initial versions of Autopilot were developed in partnership with the Israeli company Mobileye.[8]Tesla and Mobileye ended their partnership in July 2016.[9][10] In October 2015, Tesla released Autopilot version 7.0 to its customers.[11] In December 2015, Tesla announced that it will remove some self-driving features to discourage customers from engaging in risky behaviour. Autopilot Firmware 7.1 made those changes and includes remote parking technology known as Summon that can park and can bring the car to the driver without the driver in the car.[12][13][14]

Image result for tesla autopilot

On August 31, 2016, Elon Musk announced Autopilot 8.0, that processes radar signals to create a coarse point cloud similar to Lidar to help navigate in low visibility conditions, and even to ‘see’ in front of the car ahead.[15][16] Autopilot, as of version 8, uses radar as the primary sensor instead of the camera.[17] In November 2016, Autopilot 8.0 was updated to have a more noticeable signal to the driver that it is engaged and it requires drivers to touch the steering wheel more frequently, otherwise Autopilot will turn off.[18][19] By November 2016, Autopilot had operated actively on hardware version 1 vehicles for 300 million miles (500 million km) and 1.3 billion miles (2 billion km) in shadow mode.[20]

Image result for tesla autopilot

As of October 2016, Tesla said all vehicles come with the necessary sensing and computing hardware, known as Hardware version 2 (HW2), for future fully autonomous operation (SAE Level 5), with software being made available as it matures.[21] The company offers various free/extra-cost options for enabling Autopilot-associated features/services. Autopilot on hardware version 1 cars is available for US$2,500 ($3,000 after delivery). For HW2 cars, Autopilot is available as “Enhanced Autopilot” for $5,000 ($6,000 after delivery) and future full self-driving capability is an additional $3,000 ($4,000 after delivery).[22]

Image result for tesla autopilot

The first release of Autopilot for HW2 cars was in February 2017. It included adaptive cruise control, autosteer that was enabled on divided highways, autosteer on ‘local roads’ up to a speed of 35 mph or a specified number of mph over the local speed limit.[23] Firmware version 8.1 for HW2 began in June 2017 that has many new features including a new Autopilot driving-assist algorithm, full-speed braking and handling parallel and perpendicular parking.[24]

On April 28, 2017, Elon Musk predicted that in around two years drivers would be able to sleep in their Tesla until it finishes the trip.[25] In the middle of 2017, Tesla planned to demonstrate full self-driving by the end of 2017.[26][27] In February 2018, Tesla indicates the demonstration of a self-driving coast to coast drive will be ready in three to six months.[3]


Hardware 1

Vehicles manufactured after late September 2014 are equipped with a camera mounted at the top of the windshield, forward looking radar (supplied by Bosch)[28][29] in the lower grille and ultrasonic acoustic location sensors in the front and rear bumpers that provide a 360-degree view around the car. The computer is the Mobileye EyeQ3.[30] This equipment allows Model S to detect road signs, lane markings, obstacles, and other vehicles. Upgrading from Hardware 1 to Hardware 2 is not offered as it would require substantial work and cost.[31]

Hardware 2

Hardware 2, included in all vehicles manufactured after October 2016, includes an Nvidia Drive PX 2[32] GPU for CUDA based GPGPU computation.[33][34] Tesla claimed that Hardware 2 provided the necessary equipment to allow full self-driving capability at SAE Level 5. The hardware includes 8 surround cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors, in addition to the forward-facing radar with enhanced processing capabilities.[21] The Autopilot computer is replaceable to allow for future upgrades.[35] The radar is claimed to be able to observe beneath and ahead of the vehicle in front of the Tesla; the radar can see vehicles through heavy rain, fog or dust.[36]


Hardware 2.5

An updated Hardware version referred to as ‘HW 2.5’ (also known as ‘2.1’) was released in July 2017, with cars built from August 2017 containing the updated hardware set. In HW 2.5 there is a secondary node (without a GPU) to provide more computing power and wiring redundancy which is to slightly improve reliability.[53][54]

Driving features

Tesla requires operators to monitor the vehicle at all times, just as the Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to monitor aircraft on autopilot. Autopilot includes multiple capabilities, including adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.

Software updates

Autopilot-enabled cars receive Autopilot software updates wirelessly, the same as all other Tesla software updates.

Adaptive cruise control

Autopilot has the ability to follow another car, maintaining a safe distance from it as it speeds up and slows down. It can observe a second vehicle in front of the vehicle that it is following. It also slows on tight curves and when a car crosses the road in front of it. It can be enabled at any speed above 17 mph. By default, it sets the limit at the current speed limit plus/minus any driver-specified offset.


Autopilot alerts the driver under various circumstances, such as a surprising situation on the road or excessive inattention by the driver. If the driver dismisses three audio warnings within an hour, Autopilot is disabled until the car is parked. This is to prevent experienced drivers from excessive reliance on built-in safety features. At speeds under 8 mph on divided highways, Autopilot functions indefinitely without the driver’s hands on the wheel. Under 45 mph free hands are allowed for five minutes, unless the car detects lateral acceleration. Above 45 mph free hands are allowed for three minutes if following another vehicle or one minute without following a car.[36]


Autopark drives the car into a parking spot, while Summon drives it out. Configuration settings control maximum distance, side clearance and bumper clearance. This feature activates Homelink to open and close garage doors and it is available using the fob or the Tesla mobile app.[55] As of March 2017, Summon was available in “beta” for HW2. Controls include bumper, side clearance and summon distance.[56]


Autosteer steers the car to remain in whatever lane it is in (known as lane-keeping). With HW1, it is also able to safely change lanes as directed by a tap of the turn signal.[57] As of May 2017, HW2 is limited to 90 mph (145 km/h) on highway roads and the former 35 mph (56 km/h) speed limit on non-highway roads was removed, instead limiting to five over the speed limit or 45 mph (72 km/h) if no speed limit is detected.[58]

Safety features

The Autopilot can detect a potential front or side collision with another vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian within a distance of 525 feet (160 m), if one is found it sounds a warning.[59]Autopilot has automatic emergency braking that detects objects that may hit the car and applies the brakes. Autopilot also can automatically adjust the high/low beam headlights as the nighttime lighting changes.

Speed assist

Front-facing cameras detect speed limit signs and display the current limit on the dashboard or center display. Limits are compared against GPS data if no signs are present.[59]

Public debate

Some industry experts have raised questions about the legal status of autonomous driving in the U.S. and whether Tesla owners would violate current state regulations when using the Autopilot function. The few states that have passed laws allowing autonomous cars on the road, limit their use for testing purposes; not for use by the general public. Also, there are questions about the liability for autonomous cars in case there is a mistake.[60] A Tesla spokesman said there is “nothing in our autopilot system that is in conflict with current regulations.” “We are not getting rid of the pilot. This is about releasing the driver from tedious tasks so they can focus and provide better input.” Google‘s director of self-driving cars said he does not think there is a regulatory block as long as the self-driving vehicle met crash-test and other safety standards. A spokesman for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that “any autonomous vehicle would need to meet applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards” and the NHTSA “will have the appropriate policies and regulations in place to ensure the safety of this type of vehicles.”[60]

According to Elon Musk, “We really designed the Model S to be a very sophisticated computer on wheels. Tesla is a software company as much as it is a hardware company. A huge part of what Tesla is, is a Silicon Valley software company. We view this the same as updating your phone or your laptop.”[61] Full autonomy is “really a software limitation: The hardware exists to create full autonomy, so it’s really about developing advanced, narrow AI for the car to operate on.“[62][63]

The Autopilot development focus is on “increasingly sophisticated neural nets that can operate in reasonably sized computers in the car”.[62][63] According to Musk, “the car will learn over time“, including from other cars.[64] Early data after 47 million miles of driving in Autopilot mode shows the probability of an accident is at least 50% lower when using Autopilot.[65] However, Ars Technica notes that the brake system tends to initiate later than some drivers expect.[66] One driver claimed that Tesla’s Autopilot failed to brake, resulting in collisions. Tesla pointed out that the driver deactivated the cruise control of the car prior to the crash.[67] Ars Technica also notes that the lane changes are semi-automatic; the driver must activate the turn signal in order for the car to initiate a lane change.[68]

Tesla’s Autopilot with Hardware version 1 (HW1) can be classified as somewhere between levels 2 and 3 under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) five levels of vehicle automation. At this level, the car can act autonomously but requires the driver to be prepared to take control at a moment’s notice.[69][70] HW1 is suitable only on limited-access highways, and sometimes will fail to detect lane markings and disengage itself. In urban driving the system will not read traffic signals or obey stop signs. This system also does not detect pedestrians or cyclists,[71] and while AP1 detects motorcycles,[72] there has been two instances of AP rear-endingmotorcycles.[73]

There has been significant controversy over the media response to the fatal Tesla accident described in the below section. Whilst a significant amount of blame was apportioned to Tesla for the failure of its Autopilot system, it must be noted that the system at the time of the accident was in a beta phase and not ready for widespread public use, and also required the driver to ensure that their hands remained on the steering wheel at all times, and to be prepared to resume manual driving at any moment.[74][undue weight? ]Hence, when used as an assistive feature (as intended by Tesla), some hold the view that Autopilot can only enhance road safety,[74] assuming it does not lull the driver into complacent inattention.

Autopilot potentially saved the life of a pedestrian in Washington, D.C. on the night of July 17, 2016,[75][76] and played a pivotal role in a medical emergency involving 37-year-old Joshua Neally that same month.[77] Neally was driving his Tesla Model X when he suffered a pulmonary embolism that caused intense panic and rendered him incapable of driving.[78] Neally used Autopilot to drive most of the highway to a local hospital. At the off-ramp, Neally took control of the car and drove to the emergency room.[78]

Legal Challenges

Tesla’s Autopilot is facing a class action suit that claims the second-generation Enhanced Autopilot system is “dangerously defective.”[79]

Serious crashes

Handan, China (January 20, 2016)

On January 20, 2016, the driver of a Tesla Model S in Handan, China was killed when their car crashed into a stationary truck.[80] The Tesla was following a car in the far left lane of a multi-lane highway; the car in front moved to the right lane to avoid a truck stopped on the left shoulder, and the Tesla, which the driver’s father believes was in Autopilot mode, did not slow before colliding with the stopped truck.[81] According to footage captured by a dashboard camera, the stationary street sweeper on the left side of the expressway partially extended into the far left lane, and the driver did not appear to respond to the unexpected obstacle.[82]

In September 2016, the media reported the driver’s family had filed a lawsuit in July against the Tesla dealer who sold the car.[83] The family’s lawyer stated the suit was intended “to let the public know that self-driving technology has some defects. We are hoping Tesla, when marketing its products, will be more cautious. Don’t just use self-driving as a selling point for young people.”[81] Tesla released a statement which said they “have no way of knowing whether or not Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash” since the car telemetry could not be retrieved remotely due to damage caused by the crash.[81] Telemetry was recorded locally to a SD card and given to Tesla, who decoded it and provided that data to a third party for independent review. Tesla added that “while the third-party appraisal is not yet complete, we have no reason to believe that Autopilot on this vehicle ever functioned other than as designed.”[84]

Williston, Florida (May 7, 2016)

The first known fatal accident involving a Tesla engaged in Autopilot mode took place in Williston, Florida, on May 7, 2016. The driver was killed in a crash with a 18-wheel tractor-trailer.

By late June 2016, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal investigation into the accident, working with the Florida Highway Patrol. According to the NHTSA, preliminary reports indicate the crash occurred when the tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection on a non-controlled access highway, and the car failed to apply the brakes. The car continued to travel after passing under the truck’s trailer.[85][86][87] The diagnostic log of the Tesla indicated it was traveling at a speed of 74 mi/h (119 km/h) when it collided with and traveled under the trailer, which was not equipped with a side underrun protection system.[88]:12 The underride collision sheared off the Tesla’s glasshouse, destroying everything above the beltline, and caused fatal injuries to the driver.[88]:6–7; 13 Approximately nine seconds after colliding with the trailer, the Tesla traveled another 886.5 feet (270.2 m) and came to rest after colliding with two chain-link fences and a utility pole.[88]:7; 12

The NHTSA’s preliminary evaluation was opened to examine the design and performance of any automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash, which involves a population of an estimated 25,000 Model S cars.[89] On July 8, 2016, the NHTSA requested Tesla Inc. to hand over to the agency detailed information about the design, operation and testing of its Autopilot technology. The agency also requested details of all design changes and updates to Autopilot since its introduction, and Tesla’s planned updates scheduled for the next four months.[90]

According to Tesla, “neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.” The car attempted to drive full speed under the trailer, “with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.” Tesla also stated that this was Tesla’s first known Autopilot-related death in over 130 million miles (208 million km) driven by its customers while Autopilot was activated. According to Tesla, there is a fatality every 94 million miles (150 million km) among all type of vehicles in the U.S.[85][86][91] It is estimated that billions of miles will need to be traveled before Tesla Autopilot can claim to be safer than humans with statistical significance (although fewer than billions of miles will be needed if Tesla Autopilot is more dangerous). Researchers say that Tesla and others need to release more data on the limitations and performance of automated driving systems if self-driving cars are to become safe and understood enough for mass market use.[92][93]

The truck’s driver told the Associated Press that he could hear a Harry Potter movie playing in the crashed car, and said the car was driving so quickly that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.” “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road.” According to the Florida Highway Patrol, they found in the wreckage an aftermarket portable DVD player. It is not possible to watch videos on the Model S touchscreen display.[87][94] A laptop computer was recovered during the post-crash examination of the wreck, along with an adjustable vehicle laptop mount attached to the front passenger’s seat frame. The NHTSA concluded the laptop was probably mounted and the driver may have been distracted at the time of the crash.[88]:17–19; 21

Dr. Deb Bruce, head of the investigation team, announces results to the Board on September 12, 2017. In July 2016, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it had opened a formal investigation into the fatal accident while Autopilot was engaged. The NTSB is an investigative body that only has the power to make policy recommendations. An agency spokesman said, “It’s worth taking a look and seeing what we can learn from that event so that as that automation is more widely introduced we can do it in the safest way possible.” The NTSB opens annually about 25 to 30 highway investigations.[95] In September 2017, the NTSB released its report, determining that “the probable cause of the Williston, Florida, crash was the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way to the car, combined with the car driver’s inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation, which resulted in the car driver’s lack of reaction to the presence of the truck. Contributing to the car driver’s overreliance on the vehicle automation was its operational design, which permitted his prolonged disengagement from the driving task and his use of the automation in ways inconsistent with guidance and warnings from the manufacturer.”[96].

In January 2017, the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigations (ODI) released a preliminary evaluation, finding that the driver in the crash had seven seconds to see the truck and identifying no defects in the Autopilot system; the ODI also found that the Tesla car crash rate dropped by 40 percent after Autosteer installation,[97][98] but later also clarified that it did not assess the effectiveness of this technology or whether it was engaged in its crash rate comparison.[99] The NHTSA Special Crash Investigation team published its report in January 2018.[88] According to the report, for the drive leading up to the crash, the driver engaged Autopilot for 37 minutes and 26 seconds, and the system provided 13 “hands not detected” alerts, to which the driver responded after an average delay of 16 seconds.[88]:24 The report concluded “Regardless of the operational status of the Tesla’s ADAS technologies, the driver was still responsible for maintaining ultimate control of the vehicle. All evidence and data gathered concluded that the driver neglected to maintain complete control of the Tesla leading up to the crash.”[88]:25

Culver City, California (January 22, 2018)

On January 22, 2018, a Tesla Model S crashed into a fire truck parked on the side of the I-405 freeway in Culver City, California while travelling at a speed exceeding 50 mph (80 km/h) and the driver survived.[100] The driver said he was using Autopilot, according to the Culver City Fire Department, which reported the crash over Twitter at approximately 8:30 A.M. The fire truck and a California Highway Patrol vehicle were parked in the left emergency lane and carpool lane of the southbound 405, blocking off the scene of an earlier accident, with emergency lights flashing.[101]

Autopilot may not detect stationary vehicles at highway speeds and it cannot detect some objects.[102] Other advanced driver-assistance systems have similar limitations. Raj Rajkumar, who studies autonomous driving systems at Carnegie Mellon University, believes the radars used for Autopilot are designed to detect moving objects but are “not very good in detecting stationary objects”.[103] Both NTSB and NHTSA have dispatched teams to investigate the crash.[104] Hod Lipson, director of Columbia University‘s Creative Machines Lab, faulted the diffusion of responsibility concept: “If you give the same response to two people, they each will feel safe to drop the ball. Nobody has to be 100%, and that’s a dangerous thing.”[105]

Mountain View, California (March 23, 2018)

On March 23, 2018, a second US Autopilot fatality occurred in Mountain View, California.[106] The crash occurred just before 9:30 A.M. on southbound US 101 at the carpool lane exit for southbound Highway 85, at a concrete barrier where the left-hand offramp separates from 101. After the Model X crashed into the narrow concrete barrier, it was struck again by two following vehicles, and then it caught on fire.[107]

Both the NHTSA and NTSB are investigating the March 2018 crash.[108] Another driver of a Model S demonstrated that Autopilot appeared to be confused by the road stripes in April 2018. The gore ahead of the barrier is marked by diverging solid white lines (a vee-shape); the Autosteer feature of the Model S appeared to mistakenly use the left-side white line instead of the right-side white line as the lane marking for the far left lane, which would have led the Model S into the same concrete barrier had the driver not taken control.[109] Ars Technica concluded, “that as Autopilot gets better, drivers could become increasingly complacent and pay less and less attention to the road.”[110]

In a corporate blog post, Tesla noted the impact attenuator separating the offramp from US 101 had been previously crushed and not replaced prior to the Model X crash on March 23.[106][111] The post also stated that Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash, and the driver’s hands had not been detected manipulating the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash. Vehicle data showed the driver had five seconds and 150 metres (490 ft) “unobstructed view of the concrete divider, […] but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”[106] The NTSB investigation had been focused on the damaged impact attenuator and the vehicle fire after the collision, but after it was reported the driver had complained about the Autopilot functionality,[112] the NTSB announced it would also investigate “all aspects of this crash including the driver’s previous concerns about the autopilot.”[113] A NTSB spokesman stated the organization “is unhappy with the release of investigative information by Tesla”.[114] Elon Musk dismissed the criticism, tweeting that NTSB was “an advisory body” and that “Tesla releases critical crash data affecting public safety immediately & always will. To do otherwise would be unsafe.”[115]


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       Lambert, Fred (2016-10-20).

“Tesla is about to increase its lead in semi-autonomous driving w/ ‘Tesla Vision’: computer vision based on NVIDIA’s parallel computing”

      . Electrek. Retrieved 2016-10-20. Musk did say that the new vehicles will eventually be able to upgrade the new onboard Autopilot computer since the access has been made relatively easy to

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