Consumer Reports: Tesla ‘Autopilot’ is Too Much Autonomy Too Soon

Jul 14, 2016

Following a series of crashes, one of which was fatal, Tesla Motors, the automaker known for its high-performance electric vehicles and envelope-pushing technology, is now under intense scrutiny for the way it deployed and marketed its Autopilot driving-assist system.

The company’s aggressive roll-out of self-driving technology-in what it calls a “beta-test”-is forcing safety agencies and automakers to reassess the basic relationship between human drivers and their increasingly sophisticated cars. Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter to Tesla requesting detailed information about Autopilot, including any design changes and updates to the system, as well as detailed logs of when the system has prompted drivers to take over steering.

Autopilot comprises multiple systems (including Autosteer and Auto Lane Change) that use cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to, in Tesla’s words “automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic.” The company also claims the features “help the car avoid hazards and reduce the driver’s workload.”

Tesla’s own press release for the system announced “Your Autopilot has arrived” and promised to relieve drivers “of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel.” But the release also states that the driver “is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.”

Consumer Reports experts believe that these two messages-your vehicle can drive itself, but you may need to take over the controls at a moment’s notice-create potential for driver confusion. It also increases the possibility that drivers using Autopilot may not be engaged enough to to react quickly to emergency situations. Many automakers are introducing this type of semi-autonomous technology into their vehicles at a rapid pace, but Tesla has been uniquely aggressive in its deployment. It is the only manufacturer that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel for significant periods of time, and the fatal crash has brought the potential risks into sharp relief.

Click to continue reading Consumer Reports’ list of what it thinks Tesla should do now related to the Autopilot feature.