Tesla's Autopilot Needs to Be Fixed. Period

Tesla Model S on Autopilot 6 photos
Photo:, modified
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Tesla's Autopilot driving assist system has been on the receiving end of some flak lately as talks over the accuracy of its naming and the morality of its advertising continue.
The company insists there's nothing wrong with either of them since the system does precisely the same things as an airplane's autopilot and the user is well informed on its limitations before being allowed to use it. As you might notice, the latter part of the issue - the one about deceiving marketing tactics - isn't really addressed, with Tesla hiding behind the fact that users need to take full responsibility before engaging Autopilot.

What that essentially means is that they can say whatever they want, but the bit that actually matters is written on the vehicle's display when you activate the system. Why would the company put out vaguely deceiving information, only to have the user's feet brought back to Earth the moment they read the official disclaimer? Simple: because by the time you do that, you would have already either bought an entire car or unlocked some new features for a price. In other words, money.

At a first glance, the clip that came out these past days might seem to ease the scrutiny on the company's semi-autonomous system. It shows how supremely idiotic human beings can be and how the car's AI manages to keep things safe and prevent a potential catastrophe. Because that's what happens when you lose control at 65 mph (103 km/h) on a five-lane highway with cars around and nobody in the driver's seat. And that's before we even talk about the numerous cans of alcohol lying around the vehicle's cabin.

The clip is about 15 seconds long, which means the seat was left vacant for at least 20 seconds in all if you consider the time needed to get in and out - though we suspect it could have been even more than that. I don't know how you feel about it, but I think it is probably the most infuriating Autopilot video I've seen in a while. The total recklessness and disregard for everyone's safety demonstrated by the four guys in the video are absolutely frightening. You don't need to be the vengeful type to wish they wouldn't be allowed behind the wheel of a vehicle for a long time. Yes, I'm well aware of the irony of that statement.

Then, you stop and think about Elon Musk and how he's defending the system and saying Tesla is taking every precaution to make sure it's not abused by its users. And yet here we have a car doing 65 mph with nobody behind the wheel. Forget about keeping their hands on the wheel, there is literally nobody in the seat.

How can Elon Musk sit there with a straight face and tell us that Autopilot is safe when something as simple as wiring the seat belt warning system to the Autopilot isn't in place. Does the Model S warn against driving without the safety belt on? Then why does it allow the Autopilot to remain engaged when you leave the driver's seat? Even just raising your butt off the cushion should instantly disengage the Autopilot because you can't be expected to pay attention to your surroundings and react in an emergency situation while in any other position than sitting in the driver's seat.

Newer Teslas also have cameras facing the cabin. That could function as a backup since the seat sensor can be tricked if you place something heavy enough on it. Surely, the algorithm to distinguish between a person and a backpack shouldn't be too big of a challenge for Tesla's Jedi engineers, right?

All this doesn't take away any responsibility from the four dudes you're about to start hating after watching the clip below. But Tesla - as well as all other manufacturers - have to account for the fact that some people are idiots and, as pointless as it may seem, these companies need to do all they can to keep those idiots alive. Allowing a vehicle that's not fully autonomous (as per Tesla's disclaimer, not Elon Musk's statements) to drive itself without anyone behind the wheel isn't doing that.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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