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Tesla needs to rethink its Autopilot technology

Lucas Mearian | July 18, 2016
Ultimately, vehicle-to-vehicle communications is necessary for safe autonomous cars

"By marketing their feature as 'Autopilot,' Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security," Laura MacCleery, vice president of consumer policy and mobilization for Consumer Reports, said in a blog. "Consumers should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety 'beta' programs."

Wallace agreed that Autopilot misrepresents what the technology offers.

"It's driver assistance at this point," Wallace said.

Carnegie Mellon self driving car
Carnegie Mellon

John Dolan, principal systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, stands next to the school's 14th self-driving car, a 2011 Cadillac SRX.

Autopilot has been described by Tesla as a public beta program that's intended to assist and not fully take over the task of driving. Data from the beta program is transmitted back to Tesla, allowing the company to improve the technology.

Musk said Tesla had no plans to disable Autopilot, ardently defended it, and reiterated that the company plans to blog about how to properly and safely use it.

"This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the U.S., there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles," Musk said in a blog.

John Dolan, principal systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Robotics Institute, said it's a bit "glib" to compare miles driven by humans and miles driven while an ADAS is engaged; it's not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Dolan pointed out that when Autopilot is engaged, there may be many instances when the driver is forced to take control of the vehicle to avoid an accident. To insinuate that Autopilot is safer isn't necessarily accurate.

"I haven't seen exactly what the nature of the data is. If you've only logged so many miles but not the human's hard to say this validates it," Dolan said. "What I'd like to see is more information about the information."

Tesla has been adamant that Autopilot is an advanced driving assistance system (ADAS), and not fully autonomous driving technology, meaning drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel and be alert at all times. The Internet, however, is rife with Telsa vehicle owners who recorded their decision to ignore that advice by driving without their hands on the wheel, and in several cases have even climbed into the back seat of their vehicles to prove their confidence in the technology.

Carnegie Mellon self-driving car
Carnegie Mellion

Carnegie Mellon University's self-driving Cadillac uses LiDAR to range distance from objects as well as the shape of potential hazards.


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