Less than two Weeks after it was officially launched, The Boring Company’s loop system in Las Vegas had its first vulnerability.
On June 21, the morning of the last day of the International Beauty Show, an “unauthorized vehicle” joined the system’s Tesla underground taxi fleet, emails between the loop’s operations manager and an official Clark County show. The emails were received from TechCrunch under public records laws.
The emails offer new insights into how the loop operates beyond intrusion, including the system’s surprising reliance on a non-Tesla electric vehicle, plans to allow Tesla vehicles to use its autopilot driver assistance system, and confirmation within the Corporate ranks that technology is not autonomous.
The Boring Company (TBC) called the Las Vegas Metro Police to handle the break-in. “The driver of the unauthorized vehicle was cooperative and was eventually escorted out of the system,” it says in an email.
While there were no injuries or deaths from the security breach, the incident could be embarrassing for TBC, which has touted the safety of its $ 53 million system to the LVCC.
According to a management agreement between TBC and LVCC, the system should have “physical barriers” [to] to protect against the intrusion of unintentional, fraudulent or otherwise unauthorized vehicles into the tunnels.
Neither TBC nor LVCC responded to inquiries about the incident. TechCrunch will update the article if either party replies to questions.
Autopilot gets a chance
The emails received from TechCrunch offer more than the exploits of a thrill-seeker intruder.
The emails also describe plans by TBC to increase the number of Tesla vehicles in the LVCC loop from 62 to 70 and to enable the use of Tesla autopilot technologies. Previously, TBC had to deactivate all driver assistance technologies in its vehicles that are operated by human drivers.
The new area of application requires the use of seven active safety technologies – automatic emergency braking, front and side collision warning, obstacle-conscious acceleration, blind spot monitoring, lane departure avoidance, emergency lane departure warning as well as two “full autopilot” technologies: lane centering and traffic-aware cruise control.
TBC’s rationale for using Autopilot was set out in a letter to the Clark County Department of Building & Fire Prevention in June that TechCrunch received with the emails.
TBC President Steve Davis wrote that disabling features “actively removes a level of security” from “proven, street-legal technology.” Davis cited Tesla’s safety report for the first quarter of 2021, which claims that Tesla drivers who used autopilot crash less than a quarter of the rate of Tesla drivers who drove without autopilot or active safety features per mile driven. “As shown … disabling these features in Tesla vehicles increases the likelihood of an accident,” wrote Davis.
However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal safety investigation of the technology last week after a series of accidents.
Jerry Stueve, Clark County’s Director of Building and Fire Safety, replied in an email: “We will consider this, although it may help in our assessment of this request if you can use the term ‘Autodrive’ and what better can define it includes. “
“I agree that the term ‘autopilot’ is often unclear and can mean many different things depending on the vehicle and the scenario,” replied Davis. (With this, he apparently contradicts his boss Elon Musk, who described the criticism of the autopilot name as misleadingly “idiotic”.)
“I agree that the term ‘autopilot’ is often unclear and can mean many different things depending on the vehicle and the scenario.” – Steve Davis, TBC
“These are neither ‘autonomous’ nor ‘self-driving’ vehicles,” Davis continued. “The use of Tesla autopilot and active safety features add extra safety to the operation of the vehicle. However, using the functions still requires an attentive driver who is always ready to take the wheel. “
Autopilot versus autonomous driving
This distinction is vital as it seems to contradict what TBC LVCC has promised since the loop system was in place. In its land use application in May 2019, prior to the signing of the building structure, TBC wrote: “Tesla Autonomous Electric Vehicles (AEVs) will transport passengers in underground express tunnels to three subway stations.”
A planning document dated July 2019 states: “The deployment of autonomous electric vehicles in underground tunnels is a unique transportation solution that minimizes disruption and conflict in existing buildings and transportation systems.” Since then, similar language has been used in applications, including for a proposed Vegas-wide Loop with dozens of stations.
In January TechCrunch received a management agreement between LVCC and TBC which stated: “[The LVCC] procured the people mover system in part because of the ability of the people mover system vehicles to operate autonomously … The agreement recognizes the intention for the system to move from drivers in the vehicles to autonomous operation and provides for a renegotiation of the Fees no later than. before December 31, 2021, including this expected handover. “
This deadline now seems almost certain to be missed. In June, Stueve told Davis, “As mentioned at the start of the project, getting the autonomous operation approved requires extensive auditing, testing and validation. This process can take a long time. “
In response, Davis wrote, “I want to make sure it is clear that we are not asking about autonomous or self-driving functions / operations.”
People in the loop
The problem is twofold. One is that Tesla’s autopilot system may not be completely driverless for some time. The second, arguably more serious, challenge is that the loop relies heavily on its drivers to meet the safety requirements for metro systems set out in national standards. The passengers of such systems, be they monorails, subways or electric cars, need to be safe in the event of power outages, fires, floods and other emergencies.
The basis of the LVCC loop design document that TechCrunch received with the emails is: “[Our] trained drivers serve as the system’s most important level of security. In an emergency, measures taken by the driver to steer passengers in the correct and safe directions are the most important risk-reducing measures. “
Other documents TechCrunch received from BFP confirm this. In the event of a fire, the driver will “help passengers alight and guide them on foot to the next exit. The driver gives verbal instructions and can physically assist the passengers. ”Since the driver leads the passengers by going ahead, they“ have to look back consistently to make sure that every passenger follows closely behind them ”.
Drivers are responsible for assessing and responding to unruly or misbehaving passengers and, in fact, for monitoring the performance of the autopilot itself, says TBC. “The [Loop] Drivers have to make sure that someone is always monitoring the use of the active safety features and is ready to take over braking and steering when necessary, ”wrote Davis in June.
None of the dozens of documents or hundreds of emails TechCrunch has received, including those detailing the future expansion of the LVCC loop, do not describe a path or timeline for TBC to move towards fully autonomous operations.
When asked about how the loop will meet the American Society of Civil Engineers’ security principles for autonomous systems, TBC replied: [LVCC Loop]as the system will have drivers to operate vehicles. “
Only time will tell if what TBC Clark County or LVCC says is closer to how the loop will work in the future.
If the Loop vehicles are not yet driverless in the meantime, can LVCC at least expect them to be the latest Tesla models? Maybe not.
Another requirement for the loop is that it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In an email to Clark County officials in July, a TBC manager stated that he would buy a non-Tesla ADA electric vehicle for the LVCC loop.
Although the model was not specified in the email, it has a short range lead-acid battery of the same specification as the Tropos Motors Able electric utility vehicle. Neither Tropos nor TBC responded to requests.