TECH: Tesla Autopilot Proves We Aren’t Ready for Autonomous Cars

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Our automotive future will be filled with super-intelligent autonomous cars. It will make us more productive, give us greater mobility, and save lives by avoiding accidents caused by human error.

That’s the vision of the future, but right now we’re having trouble adapting to the simplest of autonomous features. This was recently proved by several accidents involving Tesla’s autonomous technology.

The first incident involved a parked Model S with no one behind the wheel. The owner claims Tesla’s Summon feature, which lets it pull into or out of parking spaces, rolled the car into a parked trailer.

The second incident involved Autopilot. The idea behind Autopilot is exactly what you think. The system uses a combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and data to steer the car. It adjusts speed to changing traffic and can even change lanes.

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Tesla Autopilot

Despite the system’s ability to drive the car without human input, it still requires a human behind the wheel. That human needs to be alert and ready to take over should the need arise.

The owner of the car in this accident was at the wheel at the time, but she says the collision-avoidance features in her Tesla didn’t work when she was in Autopilot. She claims that the car didn’t slow down with traffic or make any attempt to stop. Eventually, she hit the brakes, but it was too late and she hit another car at about 40 mph.

It’s not surprising that Tesla is disputing these claims and using the data collected by their cars to prove that everything worked correctly. Data logs in both incidents don’t support the owners’ claims.

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Tesla Model 3

In the case of the Autopilot failure to brake, logs show the owner hit the brake pedal and deactivated both Autopilot and adaptive cruise control, instantly returning full control of the car to the driver. This isn’t a new process at all. Cruise control systems have deactivated at the touch of the brakes for years.

The problem here isn’t the technology, but the people. Even though the limitations of these systems is clearly spelled out, not everyone understands that the driver is ultimately still the one in control.

This is one of the many challenges widespread use of autonomous technology faces. Once it works, the public has to understand exactly how it works or there are going to be issues.

Autonomous technology will continue to play a larger part in our daily driving experiences, but ultimately it’s the driver who needs to take responsibility, even if the car is in control.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin