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New Data Backs Up Details in a Fatal 2018 Tesla Model X Crash

New Data Backs Up Details in a Fatal 2018 Tesla Model X Crash

The NTSB's primary evidence is log data that is stored to an SD Card inside every Model X. This data records second-by-second changes in the vehicle's

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The NTSB’s primary evidence is log data that is stored to an SD Card inside every Model X. This data records second-by-second changes in the vehicle’s steering-wheel position, velocity, and other variables. NTSB examined log data from a month of Huang’s morning commutes and found two days—February 27 and March 19—when the vehicle drifted toward the lane divider that would kill him days later. In each case, logs show Huang applying torque to the steering wheel and guiding the vehicle back into its proper lane.

That’s not all. A friend of Huang’s provided the NTSB a screenshot showing Huang complaining about the issue after the March 19 incident.

“Do you feel AP [Autopilot] is better?” Hans Ting asked Walter Huang in a message on March 19. “I feel it is better … Less jerky.”

Huang responded in Chinese. “Nope, I feel almost the same,” he wrote, according to the NTSB’s translation. “Almost led me to hit the median again this morning.”

He added, “Each time at the 85 separation it would drive me towards the middle of the two lines.”

However, the NTSB was not able to confirm another claim by the family—one that could prove important in their lawsuit against the electric carmaker. Huang’s wife and brother say that he alerted a Tesla representative about Autopilot’s steering problem during a visit to a Tesla service center weeks before his death. Records show that Huang did visit a Tesla service center to address a problem with the vehicle’s falcon-wing doors. A defective sensor had caused one of the doors to bump into the garage above the vehicle, causing minor paint damage.

The family says Huang told Tesla about the problem with Autopilot during that same visit. But Tesla has no record of this. Tesla records do show Huang visiting a Tesla shop about the door issues. And Tesla’s service logs show that Huang reported an “issue with GPS/Navigation causing cruise control to not function and alert ‘maps not loaded’ to appear.”

What that’s referring to is not clear exactly, but it seems like a different issue than Autopilot steering into a concrete barrier. An interview with the staffer who talked to Huang and made that note says he clearly remembers Huang complaining about the issue with the falcon-wing doors, but he doesn’t remember anything about Autopilot steering problems.

Huang was Playing a Game on His Phone Minutes Before the Crash

Huang worked for Apple, and Apple issued Huang two smartphones. The phones were loaded with enhanced logging capabilities to assist in troubleshooting issues like memory leaks and excessive power use. Apple helped the NTSB recover these logs from one of his cell phones, which was heavily damaged in the crash. The company provided sporadic but far from comprehensive information about what software was running on Huang’s phone.

“Three logs recovered showed that a game application, Three Kingdoms mobile edition, was active during the driver’s trip to work,” the NTSB wrote in one of its reports. “The game is a world-building, strategy game with multiplayer capability. When playing the game on a mobile device such as an iPhone 8 Plus, most players have both hands on the phone to support the device and manipulate game actions.”

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At 9:06 am—21 minutes before Huang’s crash—a log entry showed that Three Kingdoms was exceeding its memory limit. The entry showed the app to be in the foreground and in active use. Then at 9:10 am—17 minutes before the crash—”extremely active” use triggered a second log entry about high power usage.

The log data suggests that Huang was a regular player during his morning commute. Log entries for the game appeared during Huang’s morning commute on each of the four days preceding his deadly Friday crash.

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