News Update

Selling an unintelligible dream at Tesla (an update)

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Last week, we wrote a piece arguing that Tesla’s marketing of “ self-driving hardware on all cars” and the name of its “Autopilot” mode were misleading, given that its cars are not self-driving.

Tesla told us that its customers fully understood how to use Autopilot mode safely, which we found a little perplexing given that Tesla’s own research shows 7 per cent of Tesla drivers said the “Autopilot” name had caused them to falsely believe “that the car is fully autonomous, meaning that it does not require the driver to be supervising the car”.

On Tuesday, the Association of British Insurers and automotive safety research group Thatcham published a report saying the following:

Thatcham Research and the ABI (Association of British Insurers) are today issuing an urgent call to carmakers and legislators for greater clarity around the capability of vehicles sold with technology that does more and more driving on behalf of motorists. The call comes in the wake of growing reports of people crashing whilst over-relying on technology which is not yet designed to drive the car independently.

Fully Automated vehicles that can own the driving task from A to B, with no need for driver involvement whatsoever, won’t be available for many years to come. Until then, drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars and as such, the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold

The report doesn’t name Tesla specifically, but it does refer to its ”Autopilot“ system:

Names like Autopilot or ProPilot are deeply unhelpful, as they infer the car can do a lot more than it can. Absolute clarity is needed, to help drivers understand the when and how these technologies are designed to work and that they should always remain engaged in the driving task.

( ProPilot is Nissan’s version of the not-yet-autonomous driving mode.)

We spoke to the report’s authors, who said Tesla’s assisted driving system was ”great! Potentially too good, as it lulls drivers into a false sense of security.”

Tesla should perhaps follow the more cautious approach taken by Daimler, whose chief executive has said it will take at least five years before driverless technology is available to its customers.

Seems unlikely though. Here’s a tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Sunday:Looking forward to August then, what with Tesla beginning “to enable full self-driving features”. (We of course have no idea what this actually means.)


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