Volvo Engineer Questions Tesla Autopilot's Worth, Uses the Word "Wannabe"

Volvo Coupe Concept 1 photo
Photo: Volvo
Do you remember the good old days when carmakers used to brag about who had the most power, the fastest sprint, and the best handling characteristics? Well, try not to forget them, as today's companies have completely different subjects to bicker about.
It all has to do with automatization these days, and just like the EV segment, it's also Tesla who's leading the pack regarding self-driving features implementation. Unlike electric powertrains, though, it doesn't have the same significant jumpstart compared to its competitors - or, at least, not quite.

Tesla was the first to introduce a functioning semi-autonomous system, and thanks to its CEO and Twitter, it certainly is the most vocal about it. The moment it was launched (fall last year), Tesla owners immediately started posting videos of their cars driving by themselves, with some of them even scooting on the back seats.

Realizing he's one accident away from a huge lawsuit with a possibly crucial impact on the brand's image, Musk changed the rules of the game a short time after, stating the Autopilot will only function as long as the driver keeps his hands on the wheel. And there's a good reason for that: in case something goes terribly wrong, the system shuts down, and the driver has to take over immediately. And chances are he or she won't be able to do that from the back seat.

For all its praising, this is actually Autopilot's main flaw, and it's a big one. The driver is freed from having to operate the pedals, but that's something the adaptive cruise control systems have been doing for years. They also don't have to worry about steering, but they still have to keep their hands on the wheel, so they can't do anything else with them. And they also need to pay attention to traffic, because their assistance might be called in at any time. So, really, the Autopilot is nothing more than a glorified adaptive cruise control system coupled with a lane keeping assist function.

That's what Volvo autonomous car engineer Trent Victor seems to think in an interview with The Verge. "It gives you the impression that it's doing more than it is," he noted. "[Tesla's Autopilot] is more of an unsupervised wannabe." Volvo, on the other hand, was the first company to come out and say it would pay for any damages suffered or caused by the car during autonomous operation. That's a strong statement, but it's really the only way to convince people it's safe to use the technology. Unless you're Tesla, of course, in which case, in Musk we trust.

"In our concept, if you don't take over, if you have fallen asleep or are watching a film, then we will take responsibility still," Victor continues. "We won't just turn [autonomous mode] off. We take responsibility and we'll be stopping the vehicle if you don't take over."

It may be that Tesla has rushed the Autopilot system a little, but the amount of real-life data it collects will probably prove invaluable. In just a few months, Tesla cars have covered more miles than Google self-driving vehicles have in a few years. Of course, it was a slight gamble, but you can't help feel that, as long as he's got access to Twitter, Musk can talk himself out of any precarious position.
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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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