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Sparks

The Tesla Recall Is a Win for Tesla

And a loss for safety advocates.

A Tesla dealership.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

More than 2 million Tesla vehicles are set to receive over-the-air updates to address failures in the Autopilot system, the carmaker’s much-hyped and oft-abused driver-assistance program. But the recall report published by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration shows regulators are willing to keep risky technology on the road as long as the driver gets nagged enough.

What’s at issue with the recall is less Autopilot’s ability to brake and accelerate and more its Autosteer functionality, which allows the car to follow curves and make turns. According to NHTSA, “the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”

That “misuse” has been well documented in the years since Autopilot’s release. It began with Teslas being “hacked” with a water bottle to allow drivers to keep their hands completely off the wheel (and sometimes their bodies in the back seat); after that, researchers found that Autopiloted Teslas were involved in 273 crashes over a one-year period. Autopilot has been investigated in almost a dozen cases of vehicles crashing into emergency vehicles, and just this August, thousands of Autopilot complaints from German customers were leaked to Handelsblatt, a German business newspaper.

The initial NHTSA investigation began in 2021, and late this year U.S. regulators met with Tesla twice to address fixes. The automaker eventually decided to resolve the matter by voluntarily administering the recall — while, according to NHTSA, “not concurring with the agency’s analysis.”

While a 2 million-car recall isn’t something usually construed as a win, in this case, U.S. regulators did not conclude the technology itself was unsafe, and also determined that drivers are responsible for using Autopilot safely. This is what Tesla has contended since the beginning, and it’s a rebuke to safety advocates, many local legislators, and lawyers representing accident victims and their families.

Both Tesla and NHTSA point out that Autopilot is similar to other Level 2 automated driving systems offered by competing automakers — although these competitors have more cautiously waded into autonomy, building in myriad restrictions and ways to track driver focus. That’s in contrast to Tesla, which, despite ample contravening evidence and multiple lawsuits, still hosts a video of a Model X “self-driving” with no intervention from the passenger on its website.

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Damon Lavrinc profile image

Damon Lavrinc

Damon Lavrinc is a freelance writer and industrial design student focused on the future of transportation. A former driving instructor and communications professional, Damon is the co-founder of the Autonocast and led transportation technology coverage at WIRED, Jalopnik, and other outlets.

Sparks

There’s Gold in That There Battery Waste

Aepnus is taking a “fully circular approach” to battery manufacturing.

Lithium ion batteries.
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Every year, millions of tons of sodium sulfate waste are generated throughout the lithium-ion battery supply chain. And although the chemical compound seems relatively innocuous — it looks just like table salt and is not particularly toxic — the sheer amount that’s produced via mining, cathode production, and battery recycling is a problem. Dumping it in rivers or oceans would obviously be disruptive to ecosystems (although that’s generally what happens in China), and with landfills running short on space, there are fewer options there, as well.

That is where Aepnus Technology is attempting to come in. The startup emerged from stealth today with $8 million in seed funding led by Clean Energy Ventures and supported by a number of other cleantech investors, including Lowercarbon Capital and Voyager Ventures. The company uses a novel electrolysis process to convert sodium sulfate waste into sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid, which are themselves essential chemicals for battery production.

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Donald Trump and Jaws.
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Former President Trump wants to know: Would you rather be electrocuted or eaten by a shark?

On Sunday, during a rally in Las Vegas, the Republican nominee floated the question for what is at least the second time this campaign season (an odd choice, perhaps, given that Nevada is hardly shark territory, and therefore his supporters there are unlikely to have given the question much thought).

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Sparks

Tornado Alley Is Moving East

New research finally sheds some light on what the heck is happening.

A tornado.
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If hurricanes, wildfires, heat, and floods are the Big Four of extreme weather in America, then tornadoes are perhaps the equivalent of the National Bowling League.

That’s not for lack of fatalities — tornadoes kill more people annually than hurricanes, per the 30-year average — nor for their lack of star power (see: The Wizard of Oz, Sharknado, Twister, and my most highly anticipated movie of the year, Twisters). But when it comes to the study of extreme weather, robust, detailed data on tornadic supercells has been described as “largely absent,” at least compared to the scholarship on their more popular meteorological counterparts.

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