Tesla’s Autopilot Feature May Not Be Self-DrivingFebruary 18, 2019
Co-founder and CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, announced to investors recently that all Tesla vehicles can self-drive on roads that have controlled access, such as highways. Industry insiders are challenging this full self-driving service. Musk was talking about the company’s Navigate on Autopilot feature, which can initiate lane changes, go on and off ramps, navigate highways, and take exits.
This driver assist feature utilizes sensors and cameras that can control steering, braking, and speed. Other manufacturers are trying to follow suit and are working to develop similar systems for their cars and trucks. Some of these include Ford’s Argo, GM’s Cruise Automation, and Alphabet’s Waymo.
According to an article posted by The Verge, Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot system is not the same thing as full self-driving. It stated that no vehicles are capable of this and referenced the Society of Automotive Engineers classification of autonomous vehicles. Using this, the article claims that the Navigate on Autopilot feature falls under the Level 2 category. This infers that these cars can perform lane changes, braking, and speed changes, although there needs to be a human present to monitor the activity. Furthermore, the human presence is needed in case of an emergency.
Inattentive Drivers and Crashes
The Verge article goes on to say that the full self-driving statement is misleading and can create a false sense of security for drivers. Drivers that are not paying attention when the Autopilot function is in use can end up in serious accidents.
In 2016, an Ohio Tesla owner was using his autopilot while driving in Florida. He suffered a fatal accident when the Tesla drove into a tractor trailer, then continued through two fences and a pole before it stopped. The driver had previously posted two dozen videos that showed him in the car while the Autopilot was engaged.
That same year, the driver of a Model X was fatally injured when the car slammed into a barrier on a California highway. The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the Autopilot was in use when the crash happened. In a 2018 accident in Utah, a driver was using Autopilot when her Model S crashed into a fire department vehicle. She admitted that she was using her phone at the time of the crash.
Background on Full Self-Driving
Some years ago, Elon Musk stated that Tesla vehicles would eventually be able to drive by themselves, with no human input needed. The company marketed this feature, which adds several thousand dollars to the purchase price. The roll-out encountered a few hurdles, including regulatory approvals and the technology’s ability to recognize traffic signals.
Critics have pointed out that Musk’s statements about Autopilot, including the most recent one, have given drivers false impressions about this feature’s safety. Tesla has stated that Autopilot was designed for use with alert drivers who keep their hands at the wheel, so the CEO’s comments have created some confusion. Another article said that the word, autopilot, is misleading to drivers.
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