Giving Our Cars More Control

Joshua Voth 

Self-driving cars have long been conceptualized and dreamed about by scientists, writers, and artists.  We have seen them in movies — Batman, 1989, Minority Report, 2002, and I, Robot, 2004 — and with technologies being made available to us, we are seeing this sci-fi hype being turned into reality. 

 On October 14, 2015, Tesla launched a software update for its Tesla Model S all-electric car.  Tesla claims this update is an “incremental introduction of self-driving technology”, and gives the driver of the Model S the ability to autonomously steer within a lane, change lanes with the tap of a finger, manage speed, and of course engages traffic-awareness cruise control to maintain safety while performing the aforementioned tasks. This level of automation control puts the Tesla Model S at a ‘Level 2’ of automation as defined by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), while a Level 0 is defined as: “driver completely controls the vehicle at all times.”

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So just HOW well does this new level of automation perform? To start, Tesla spokesperson Khobi Brooklyn states in an email, “Similar to the autopilot function in airplanes, drivers need to maintain control and responsibility of their vehicle while enjoying the convenience of Autopilot in Model S.” Elon Musk has also warned that this autopilot is not synonymous with full automation and drivers should exercise caution and control while using the new autopilot features. 

 This new autopilot feature is still being developed, and is by no means market ready. It’s constantly being altered and changed so that it can deliver a faster, safer automation for vehicle patrons. This new autopilot feature does not deny the driver the ability to drive and control the vehicle independently. Demonstrated in YouTube videos uploaded by enthusiastic Tesla owners, at any given moment the driver can correct the computer’s automated decisions — which subsequently provides the Tesla developers with information on where problems occurred and how to fix them. So to answer the question of performance in short — no, the Tesla’s autopilot is not even near perfect, and giving the Model S a higher level of automation while it can only perform at a Level 2 could result in fatalities.

To sum all this up, it would be fair to say the there is more hype surrounding this new feature in the Tesla vehicles than is warranted by the reality of how early it is in development. It’s very fascinating to see this new automobile technology (and arguably an emerging service) and how it could one day provide us with a safer commute. I will note that for car enthusiasts like myself, automation takes away the thrill, fun and freedom of driving — others, however, will find this feature attractive and essential, and of course some will fear it. What do you think? Is autopilot — like we see in Tesla’s cars — a good idea to continue pursuing?

Interested in seeing Tesla’s new Autopilot in action? Use this QR Code to watch the YouTube Video!