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Elon Musk explains why Tesla has no plans to disable Autopilot

Published Jul 18th, 2016 11:07AM EDT
Tesla Autopilot Elon Musk
Image: Tesla

Consumer Reports last week published a somewhat bizarre missive calling for Tesla to completely disable the Autopilot software that comes equipped on the Model S and the Model X. The call for action came in the wake of three highly publicized Tesla crashes that were ostensibly caused by fundamental failures in the company’s Autopilot software. But as we highlighted last week, blaming Autopilot for the aforementioned crashes is more than a little bit misleading. In fact, in one of the accidents, Tesla discovered that Autopilot wasn’t even activated at the time of the crash.

But because the media likes to fan the flames of controversy, the narrative that Tesla’s Autopilot software was inherently unsafe began to spread like wildfire. Admittedly, Autopilot isn’t perfect and there are certainly large areas of room for improvement, but demanding that Tesla remove the feature completely, with no evidence to support such a demand, seemed short-sighted to say the least.

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Tesla meanwhile was not swayed in the slightest and has absolutely no plans to disable Autopilot. Instead, the company said that it plans to better educate its users about the capabilities and inherent limitations of its Autopilot software.

Touching on the topic ever so briefly, Tesla CEO Elon Musk over the weekend took to Twitter where he directed us to forum post from a Tesla owner arguing why disabling Autopilot makes no sense. Musk proudly called the post a “great rebuttal.”

The piece is in fact a good read, and if anything, is something that Tesla should have published itself many months ago. While I can understand that Tesla loves the marketing aspect of Autopilot, the company should have been more open about the software’s limitations from the very beginning.

As of writing this note, Tesla’s autopilot allows you to maintain lane, change lanes, and park the car. While you should keep your hands on the steering wheel, when driving on a straight road with minimal traffic, you may take off your hands from time to time to relax your arms. However, when encountering curves, construction zones, roads that don’t have clear lane markings, busy traffic, inclement weather such as rain or snow, and even direct bright sun, you should keep your hand on the steering wheel and be ready to take control if needed.

Remember, when you are in an aircraft and if the pilot were to put the aircraft in autopilot mode, what would you expect them to do. I believe you wouldn’t want them to be roaming the aisles and talking to passengers leaving the flight control to the computer. It’s the same with your car on autopilot.

And definitely DO NOT:
a) Go to sleep
b) Read any kind of literature
c) Play games
d) Watch anything other than the road and the dash/screen on your car
e) Get so engrossed in conversation with other passengers in the car or on the phone that you are not aware of road conditions.

Did you notice that all of the above also apply to driving any vehicle? I hope you get the point – it is NOT AN AUTONOMOUS vehicle so don’t act like you are driving one. There is NO autonomous vehicle authorized on public roads at this time in any part of the world. Once again, autopilot is NOT autonomous. Autopilot still requires you – it will assist you but doesn’t replace you.

Again, the entire post is worth a read, and for what it’s worth, Tesla is already working on improvements to Autopilot’s radar that would allow it to spot obstructions more readily. Over the weekend, Musk said that such improvements may even be possible via a software update.

And lastly, here’s Musk being Musk.

Polling passionate Tesla owners about what they think about the company’s Autopilot software is hardly instructive, but hey, that’s what makes Musk such a fascinating CEO to follow.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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