Tesla Whistleblower Wins Free-Speech Award

A formeer Tesla employee has been awarded a prestigious free speech prize after handing over internal company records that allegedly highlighted safety issues with Tesla’s automated driver assistance feature, marketed as Full Self-Driving (FSD).

Polish-born Lukasz Krupski gave 100GB of internal records to German outlet Handelsblatt, which published reports on the alleged safety issues in May.

Anonymous until identifying himself in a Handelsblatt interview last month, Krupski was awarded the Blueprint for Free Speech Whistleblowing Award on Tuesday.

Krupski was a service technician at Tesla in Norway, where electric vehicles account for more than 80 percent of new car sales.

Tesla and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk. Image credit: SpaceX

AI safety concerns

After personally putting out a fire in an exhibition hall in Oslo that was being used by Tesla in March 2019, and severely burning his hands in the process, Krupski was personally thanked by company chief executive Elon Musk.

But he was fired in 2022, in part, he claims, because of internal complaints about safety issues.

He told Blueprint for Free Speech he was compelled to act because Tesla’s driver-assistance technology is being used on public roads and could allegedly pose a risk to anyone.

He said he had an image of the “scariest situation imaginable” of a car veering onto a footpath and ploughing into small children.

“That was what was telling me that I had to do something about it,” he said.

Customer complaints

The internal documents, reported in May, include customer complaints from 2015 to March 2022, during which Handelsblatt said Tesla customers reported more than 2,400 self-acceleration iossues and 1,500 braking problems, including 139 reprots of “unintentional emergency braking” and 383 reports of “phantom stops” from false collision warnings.

The incidents mentioned by Handelsblatt include descriptions of how cars “suddenly brake or accelerate abruptly”, with some drivers regaining control of vehicles while others “ended up in a ditch, hit walls or crashed into oncoming vehicles”.

Tesla issued a recall of 362,758 vehicles equipped with FSD beta-test software in February, warning the software may cause crashes.

The company reported Krupski’s actions to data protection authorities in the Netherlands, where its European headquarters are located, as a data breach, and the authority confirmed it is investigating.

‘Real-world AI’

Meanwhile the firm continues to promote its self-driving artificial intelligence (AI), with Musk saying on Saturday on X, formerly Twitter, which he owns, “Tesla has by far the best real-world AI.”

In early November the company prevailed in the latest of a string of lawsuits and official investigations involving its self-driving features, a case in which one of its vehicles veered off a highway east of Los Angeles, crashed and burst into flames, killing the driver and injuring passengers.

Tesla was found not liable for the crash after arguing it was unclear whether the Autopilot driver-assisstance feature was engaged at the time.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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