Tesla refutes reports it rejected extra autopilot safety features over costs

midian182

TechSpot Editor
Staff member

Tesla’s autopilot feature has come under scrutiny in recent times following three fatal accidents that occurred while it was being used. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the firm’s engineers wanted to include additional safeguards on the system, but these were rejected by executives, including CEO Elon Musk, over concerns that they were too expensive, ineffective, and would annoy drivers.

The report claims that eye-tracking technology was one of the options looked at to ensure drivers were watching the road; another was to add more sensors to the steering wheel. But fears that the former system might not work with drivers of different heights, along with concerns over camera and sensor costs, led to the plans being abandoned, according to the Journal’s sources. "It came down to cost, and Elon was confident we wouldn't need it," said one person.

Musk tweeted that while the eye tracking had been on the table, it was rejected for its ineffectiveness rather than cost. The CEO said Tesla vehicles were the safest on the road, four times better than average.

A driver in China is thought to be the first person to be killed while using Autopilot, back in January 2016. In June that same year, Joshua Brown was the first person in the US to die while using the feature. More recently, Tesla Model X driver Walter Huang died when his vehicle hit a crash barrier while autopilot was engaged. The incident, which took place in March this year, is being investigated by the NTSB, though Tesla says its own internal investigation showed Huang kept his hands off the wheel despite repeated warnings.

Autopilot alerts drivers when it detects they’re not holding the wheel. If the warnings are ignored for a minute, the feature is switched off for the rest of the drive. But some drivers still treat the system as if it's fully autonomous. Last month saw a UK Tesla owner banned for 18 months and fined around $2472 for engaging the feature and leaving the driver’s seat while on a highway.

A Tesla spokesperson gave the following statement:

Everyone at Tesla is not only encouraged, but expected, to provide criticism and feedback to ensure that we're creating the best, safest cars on the road. This is especially true on the Autopilot team, where we make decisions based on what will improve safety and provide the best customer experience, not for any other reason.

Ensuring that drivers stay engaged and alert when using Autopilot is extremely important. That is why we designed the system to deliver an escalating series of visual and audio warnings reminding the driver to place their hands on the wheel. That's also why we've taken so many steps to improve this process over time, including an update that prevents a driver from re-engaging Autopilot if they ignore repeated warnings. We've explored many technologies and opted for the combination of a hands-on-wheel torsion sensor with visual and audio alerts, and we will of course continue to evaluate new technologies as we evolve the Tesla fleet over time.

Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents -- such a standard would be impossible -- but it makes them much less likely to occur. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.

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m4a4

TS Evangelist
I'm just waiting for them to rebrand it away from the implications that it's fully autonomous (when they clearly tell you it's not).
"Autopilot" is not a term that is anywhere close to stupid proof lol
 
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Cycloid Torus

Stone age computing - click on the rock below..
I would say the operation of a Tesla vehicle would be analygous to VFR. "Autopilot" defined as "automatic pilot" is "a device for keeping an aircraft on a set course without the intervention of the pilot." For Tesla, it is an automobile rather than an aircraft, but still performs the same function - stable flight, keep on course. Pilot is responsible for navigation and communication, including "see and avoid". Aircraft autopilot can sense turbulence and mis-direction as well as mechanical failure - it then raises the alarm for the pilot to take over operation. Woe to the pilot who ignores 'collision alert'.

Would you fly with a pilot who watches movies on his iPad?
 

wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
Not surprising, really, given the history of safety improvements for automobiles. When Lee Iaccoca was head of Chrysler, they refused to put air bags in cars for exactly the same reason - too expensive. Then when they were made mandatory, Lee Iaccoca was happy to appear in Chrysler commercials touting that they had them in their cars as standard equipment. Hypocritical if you ask me.

Personally, I would think that ensuring the safety of their vehicles would be good policy as it would have earned them a reputation for putting safety first. At this point in time, I think that kind of a reputation would have come in handy for them and might have prevented these stupidity crashes, but in the name of the cash and perhaps getting a product to the market - which, to me, is another way of saying in the name of cash, the willfully leave this out yet market the "feature" as "Autopilot" and then walk that back somewhere in some notice about what "Autopilot" can and cannot do.

For me, this reinforces my negative opinion of Musk and Tesla. It is catching up with them whether they like it or not.
 
"If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident."

If you have money for tesla with autopilot you are probably better educated than average and better the education the less stupid risks you take.
 

wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
"If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident."

If you have money for tesla with autopilot you are probably better educated than average and better the education the less stupid risks you take.
There are exceptions to that rule as having money does not necessarily equate with common sense.

And that statement from Tesla is obvious marketing blather. If anyone who buys a Tesla believes that, I would think that proves my point especially when they find "smart ways" to defeat having to have their hands on the wheel at all times when using "autopilot".
 

mbrowne5061

TS Evangelist
I would say the operation of a Tesla vehicle would be analygous to VFR. "Autopilot" defined as "automatic pilot" is "a device for keeping an aircraft on a set course without the intervention of the pilot." For Tesla, it is an automobile rather than an aircraft, but still performs the same function - stable flight, keep on course. Pilot is responsible for navigation and communication, including "see and avoid". Aircraft autopilot can sense turbulence and mis-direction as well as mechanical failure - it then raises the alarm for the pilot to take over operation. Woe to the pilot who ignores 'collision alert'.

Would you fly with a pilot who watches movies on his iPad?
And pilots go through much more rigorous training before being allowed to fly solo, without an instructor - they know that autopilot means 'don't deviate from current course'. The general population on the other hand, believe it means something more advanced: 'go from point-A to point-B, I'll take over for things like bad weather and landing'
 

Camikazi

TS Evangelist
I'm just waiting for them to rebrand it away from the implications that it's fully autonomous (when they clearly tell you it's not).
"Autopilot" is not a term that is anywhere close to stupid proof lol
"Full Self-Driving Hardware on All Cars. All Tesla vehicles produced in our factory, including Model 3, have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver." from the Tesla website.
 

m4a4

TS Evangelist
"Full Self-Driving Hardware on All Cars. All Tesla vehicles produced in our factory, including Model 3, have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver." from the Tesla website.
It never says that their cars do Full Self-Driving, just that they have the hardware for it. It's already been stated in previous articles that there are clear warnings to using the system.
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
....[ ]....If you have money for tesla with autopilot you are probably better educated than average and better the education the less stupid risks you take.
You know what you get when you blow a bunch of sunshine up a yuppie's a**?

A strident, boring, know it all snob, with no common sense, whose head rattles every time he nods yes to anything Musk says.