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Tesla defends Autopilot after Mobileye says car maker was ‘pushing the envelope in terms of safety’

Reuters journalist Paul Ingrassia sits in the drivers seat of a Tesla S-Type in Autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 7, 2016.

(Reuters) – Tesla Motors on Thursday said its former camera supplier Mobileye disparaged the safety of Tesla’s assisted driving technology Autopilot after learning the carmaker was developing its own vision system.

Once Mobileye learned Tesla would be using its own vision system in upcoming versions of Autopilot, a semi-autonomous technology that helps vehicles steer, it “attempted to force Tesla to discontinue this development, pay them more and use their products in future hardware,” a Tesla spokeswoman said.

Tesla’s comments came a day after Mobileye Chairman Amnon Shashua told Reuters the company had broken ties with Tesla because Autopilot was “pushing the envelope in terms of safety,” prompting Tesla to respond that it “continuously” educated drivers that they should be prepared to take control of the car.

Tesla’s strong defense of Autopilot underscores the huge stakes in the race to perfect self-driving and partially self-driving systems and the need to assure consumers and regulators that the innovations are safe.

Mobileye did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Tesla’s Thursday charges.

The Autopilot system has been under intense scrutiny since the death of a Tesla driver in May whose Model S crashed into a tractor-trailer in Florida while Autopilot was engaged.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating Autopilot since June.

A Chinese man sued Tesla in China in July, saying Autopilot caused his son to crash into a street-sweeping vehicle. Tesla said there was no way to know whether Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident, due to damage to the car.

Tesla’s spokeswoman called the statements made by Mobileye’s Shashua “inaccurate.”

“When Tesla refused to cancel its own vision development activities and plans for deployment, Mobileye discontinued hardware support for future platforms and released public statements implying that this discontinuance was motivated by safety concerns,” she said.

The public fingerpointing is rare in the industry. In July, after Mobileye announced its break with Tesla, the carmaker said its former supplier had been unable to keep pace with Tesla’s product changes.

Concerns about Autopilot – which is not dissimilar to systems by rival automakers – led Tesla to put new limits on Autopilot in January and on Sunday.

Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Sunday an update would temporarily prevent drivers from using the system if they fail to heed audible and visual warnings to take back control.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage; editing by Peter Henderson and Cynthia Osterman)

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