Following a spate of bad media coverage surrounding Telsa's Autopilot system, Consumer Reports is calling on Tesla to disable the Autosteer function of Autopilot. But that's not going to happen: Tesla CEO Elon Musk has already stated that Tesla has no plans to disable Autopilot.
Consumer Reports calls for Tesla to do the following:
- Disable Autosteer until it can be reprogrammed to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel
- Stop referring to the system as "Autopilot" as it is misleading and potentially dangerous
- Issue clearer guidance to owners on how the system should be used and its limitations
- Test all safety-critical systems fully before public deployment; no more beta releases
The clamor over Autopilot comes after two accidents — one fatal — have been blamed on Autopilot. At least, they've been blamed in part on Autopilot. According to Tesla's data from the wrecks, driver negligence of a system the requires driver supervision may have played a key role in the circumstances of both accidents. Tesla has been clear from the start that Autopilot is a "driver assist system", and it nags drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.
Consumer Reports does have a valid point about the Autopilot branding. While "Autopilot" is consistent with the aeronautical terminology for Autopilot — the pilot flies the plane on take off and landing, Autopilot handles the monotony of flying between those two points — it's not consistent with consumer expectations of the term.
As for disabling Autopilot or even the Autosteer function... that's not going to happen. And even requiring the driver to keep their hand on the wheel the entire time won't do much to address the problem with neglecting to pay attention — Autosteer can pick up the mere resistance in turning the steering wheel of a hand resting on the wheel.
And then there's the beta demands. Let's be 100% clear here: Autopilot is a beta, but it is one that users must opt into by paying a few thousand dollars — it's not been forced on anybody and it isn't required for the operation of the car. Tesla is engaging in a fleet learning program in which data from every Autopilot enabled car is fed back to Tesla's servers for processing and improving the performance of every Autopilot Tesla. It takes tens of millions of miles worth of data to build a system like Autopilot, and even a larger company than Tesla would have great difficulty collecting that data without putting it in thousands of cars on the road engaging in normal daily driving.
This kind of system is impossible without a widespread public beta. Tesla's already up over 130 million miles of Autopilot data — and once the Tesla Model 3 hits they'll have all the data they could possibly want.