Tesla Model S Goes Cross Country On Autopilot - Image Credit: Alex Roy
Who better to "drive" a Tesla coast-to-coast than Alex Roy (he already did it once), automotive journalist and editor, esteemed driving endurance record holder, and the 2007 transcontinental "Cannonball Run" record-setter?
Roy seems like the perfect candidate, and he believes that he's one of the only people that can pull it off. He was the driver for Tesla's first cross-country record, so why not again right? He also has quite a bit of advice for Elon Musk pertaining to how the event should be handled.
According to Elon Musk, Tesla's full self-driving technology (Level 4 autonomy) will be capable of an "unassisted" cross-country run before the end of 2017.
First of all, for those unfamiliar with the Cannonball Run, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker drove from Los Angeles to New York in 271 hours, about 100 years back. Baker has a slew of endurance driving records (143 to be precise) and is basically the reason that people do these timed, coast-to-coast runs.
Musk has stated on several occasions that a self-driving Tesla will travel across the country before the end of the year, and it will do so with no driver intervention. Obviously, the car will have to be charged, but that's about as much as the driver will be involved (unless he/she has to ... in which case this attempt will be deemed a fail).
Times are different than they used to be, and now every facet of our lives can be put on social media, in the form of pictures, audio, video ... and live video of course. Roy says that in order for the feat to be taken seriously, there will be a host of expectations. Back when Baker pulled it off, it was probably pretty obvious that if he left one city driving, and showed up in another city hours later, that was proof enough. This is surely not so today. Roy explains:
"If the “full self-driving” Tesla Cannonball is to serve your broader goals, it is essential that the claim meet an incontrovertible evidentiary standard exceeding that of any prior effort — human or autonomous. Anything less harms not only Tesla, but industry-wide efforts to develop autonomous driving technologies that will save 1M+ lives a year."
"Tesla’s upcoming claim needs to substantiated such that no critic can call it a hoax, and no competitor can subsequently claim to have beaten it by meeting a lower standard."
"A 2017 record must use 2017 technology, which means exploiting the latest in bandwidth improvements, hardware miniaturization and social platforms. Anything omission in content gathering and propagation will be mercilessly exploited by a clickbait driven media and the kneejerk opposition of those who seek to gain from Tesla’s failure — real or perceived."
Roy believes that no less than two humans must be in the vehicle at all times, due to the fact that autonomous transportation needs to establish trust. Supercharger stops need to be pre-determined and scheduled, with witnesses on hand. He also suggests real-time streaming of in-car video, and real-time GPS tracking with public access.
Other ideas from previous runs include time cards, fuel/toll receipts (Superchargers take care of this aspect), a spotter plane, and third-party invites (journalists, attorneys, family members, etc.).
What makes Alex Roy the man for the job (in his mind)?
Roy says that there are less than 10 journalists with "the writing skill, the technical knowledge, the audience and the desire to be part of this historic effort." Factor in that they must be comfortable being in a self-driving car for several days, and Roy thinks there may be less than five candidates.
Roy claims that he's the only candidate with "relevant endurance driving or racing experience (and) multiple semi-autonomous driving records." He has also written at length about Tesla Autopilot and competitors' self-driving technology. Roy is the author of The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit of Speed and Truth in the Outlaw Racing World, which recounts his lifelong driving pursuits. Roy's letter to Elon concludes:
"Given my unique contribution to the history of endurance driving records, my credibility among both supporters and skeptics of self-driving cars, my specialized knowledge of autonomous driving technology, and my position as Editor-at-Large for Time’s automotive portal The Drive, I hope you will see the value of having me in the car that will make history."
"Two days is a long time to spend in a car alone. I hope you choose to send a second person I can get along with. Here’s an idea: you take the back seat, and I’ll take the front. We can always play Civ head-to-head to pass the time."
Love & kisses,
Source: The Drive