It seems Tesla Motors is confusing consumers when it comes to Autopilot capabilities and safety. The company will need to be increasingly clear about its self-driving Autopilot Mode in the future, following a fatal crash that may be blamed on the technology.
While Tesla continues to defend itself and tell media and consumers that the feature is not a replacement for human drivers, other comments, explanations, and videos may be inadvertently making consumers a bit too comfortable.
Director of Google's self-driving car program, Chris Urmson said:
"Human drivers can't always be trusted to dip in and out of the task of driving when the car is encouraging them to sit back and relax."
The recent Autopilot crash in Florida is still being investigated, but no information has been publicized verifying that the driver was distracted or "hands-free". It hasn't been determined if the Autopilot was at fault or not, and that may never be agreed upon, but a DVD player and laptop was found in the vehicle. The truck driver who hit the Model S said a movies was playing, but Florida investigators said the units were not powered up when police arrived, and a determination if they were active at the time of the crash could not be made.
In the end, it all comes down to whether or not drivers have a false sense of safety and will inherently make bad, "lazy" choices, coupled with who to blame for the accident legally. In Florida, Tesla is probably in pretty good shape legally, based on current laws. Since the government and insurance companies have not yet set parameters, and likely won't for some time, the situation remains unclear.
According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the semi-autonomous, self-driving technology is a "hands on" system. When a driver turns on the Autopilot function, the dashboard indicates:
"Please keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time."
However, even though Musk has said that the company is being very cautious, he has also said that the system is about twice as good as a human. Both comments may be true, but people see the statistics and may think it means that the system is foolproof. Some people believe everything that they see and hear on the Internet and TV, and unfortunately, people tend to be lazy.
A popular video on Instagram by Musk's ex-wife, Talulah Riley, shows her and a friend driving on a busy highway, hands free. Riley even has her eyes closed (note: it has since been removed).
While Tesla's self-driving technology is likely the best on the road thus far, and has been revered by many, automakers must keep its abilities very clear. Audi spokesman, Brad Stertz said:
"Kudos to Tesla for bringing out the system but you also need to be responsible and clear about what the technology is capable of doing."
Tesla has used over-the-air updates to regularly adjust the Autopilot features for better safety. There are now speed restrictions, and visual and audible warnings. The car is aware if the driver is not "engaged". Univerisity of Florida law professor, Lars Noah explained:
"It sounds like (Tesla) they did a fairly good job of designing into the mechanism prompts and reminders about what the deal was, and for whatever reason, this guy was not paying attention."