There was a curve on Interstate 405 that always caused Musk trouble

Monday, May 27th, 2024

Elon Musk by Walter IsaacsonIn 2015, Musk was spending hours each week working with the Autopilot team, Walter Isaacson explains (in his biography of Elon):

He would drive from his home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles to the SpaceX headquarters near the airport, where they would discuss the problems his Autopilot system encountered. “Every meeting started with Elon saying, ‘Why can’t the car drive itself from my home to work?’” says Drew Baglino, one of Tesla’s senior vice presidents.


There was a curve on Interstate 405 that always caused Musk trouble because the lane markings were faded. The Autopilot would swerve out of the lane and almost hit oncoming cars. Musk would come into the office furious. “Do something to program this right,” he kept demanding. This went on for months as the team tried to improve the Autopilot software.

In desperation, Sam Teller and others came up with a simpler solution: ask the transportation department to repaint the lanes of that section of the highway. When they got no response, they came up with a more audacious plan. They decided to rent a line-painting machine of their own, go out at 3 a.m., shut the highway down for an hour, and redo the lanes. They had gone as far as tracking down a line-painting machine when someone finally got through to a person at the transportation department who was a Musk fan. He agreed to have the lines repainted if he and a few others at the department could get a tour of SpaceX. Teller gave them a tour, they posed for a picture, and the highway lines got repainted. After that, Musk’s Autopilot handled the curve well.


  1. Gwern says:

    What an embarrassing anecdote for Tesla and the Autopilot program. With an attitude like that, no wonder it didn’t work.

  2. McChuck says:

    Potemkin highway lanes.

  3. Bomag says:

    Yeah, that anecdote inspires no confidence in the self-driving systems.

  4. Gwern says:

    BI reports about more Tesla FSD issues like that. Apparently they ‘solved’ Lombard Street by simply adding in some hacks for it too:

    “Bernal said he was one of eight or nine test drivers who went to Lombard Street to work on a solution, after Balwani, also known by his YouTube account Tesla Raj, posted a video of FSD repeatedly attempting to veer off the famously curvy road. The company eventually coded invisible barriers into the system to fix the issue specifically for Lombard Street, according to Bernal.”

    Somehow, I’m thinking that Waymo didn’t hardcode a solution to Lombard Street into *their* self-driving car software…

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