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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

Currently, Tesla's Autopilot system conforms to level 2 (or slightly higher) autonomous functionality, according to the NHTSA. The agency has created five levels to describe autonomous functionality, level 0 equating to no self-driving features and level 4 being a fully self-driving vehicle.

Autopilot does go beyond ADAS technology offered by other carmakers in that it can automatically change lanes when the turn signal is activated.

Tesla's vehicles use both radar and cameras to feed data to a central computer, which uses algorithms to enable Autopilot to manipulate the vehicle for functions such as adaptive cruise control, lane centering or automatic braking.

Both Google and Tesla have "lit a fire under" the auto industry to forge ahead more aggressively with ADAS technology, Dolan said. Virtually all carmakers today have or are planning to include ADAS on most vehicle models.

CMU has been developing autonomous vehicles for years, pushing out more than a dozen models; the most recent uses LiDAR.

LiDAR systems, however, paint a more robust picture that can be used by a vehicle's artificial computer algorithms to better determine its surroundings. One problem with rolling out LiDAR, however, is its exorbitant price.

LiDAR systems, such as the ones being tested by Google on its autonomous vehicles, can cost more than $1,500. As the technology evolves, prices are expected to come down quickly. Some LiDAR makers are already designing systems that will cost as little as $250.

A better question may be: "Are we ready for autonomous driving technology?" Dolan said.

The problem is that drivers get lulled into a false sense of security when they believe a computer can perform better than they can.

On one hand, Dolan applauds Musk and Tesla's bold approach to deploying self-driving technology because it is driving development. On the other hand, ADAS that's not fully baked and ends up directly or indirectly causing accidents, could encourage  the industry as a whole to pull back hard on the deployment throttle.

While the rest of the auto industry may be developing its own ADAS and fully autonomous vehicle technology, it's not likely to take the same path as Telsa. The 100-plus-year old auto industry is far more cautious because, unlike a tech start-up, it has more to lose, Dolan said.

"The last thing they want is the publicity that Tesla is getting right now, and they'll do anything to avoid it," he said.


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