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A Supportive View of the Autopilot Feature

08.02.16 - 2016 Tesla Model S

Why are so may calling for Tesla to disable the Autopilot function that’s present in the Model S? For the most part the outrage has taken place due to the death of Joshua Brown when his Tesla Model S was set on Autopilot but could not discern from a white tractor trailer and the sky ahead. Is this one fatality enough to cause Tesla to need to disable the Autopilot system? If that were the case shouldn’t every automaker shut down until they can make vehicle that can guarantee the safety of the occupants inside the vehicle?

We can apply this type of logic to a myriad of situations. Whether you are on the side of gun control or not, on the side of a larger military presence in the Middle East or not, or feel that one death is one too many for any product or system the reality is we have people who die unnecessarily every single day. Because this is a harsh and sometimes unsettling truth, let’s look at some of the information given regarding this crash so we can understand better why Tesla should not shut down the Autopilot feature of the Model S.

The fact that Joshua Brown’s Tesla Model S was being driven in Autopilot mode is undisputed. What is unclear is whether or not he was watching a movie while the car was driving or if he was actually paying attention. There are some videos on YouTube of him taking videos while the vehicle was driving; which does go against the advice given regarding driving the car with the Autopilot system functioning. Using this information we could come to the conclusion that Mr. Brown wasn’t the most attentive driver when the feature was engaged regardless of whether or not he was playing a movie at the time of the accident.

The Autopilot system that has been developed by Tesla has time and again come with the warning that this system is not autonomous driving. Not only is this not autonomous, loading it to vehicles is actually a test phase for Tesla, which is also communicated along with warnings. Tesla has made it abundantly clear this system is not autonomous and you are required as a driver to stay alert and take over if needed. This is not just to absolve Tesla from any possible responsibility but also to ensure you can stay safe while driving.

The fact that the system is a beta test of what may be coming down the road has some in an uproar as well. The feeling is the system should have been fully tested before being launched, but that seems to be unnecessary as well. So far as we know the only problem the system had was being able to discern the truck from the sky, which looked the same. This happened because the cameras were reading the surroundings and the radar system would have ignored the truck, thinking it was an overhead sign.

In reality, more Tesla owners have enjoyed having the Autopilot system than haven’t, but they do need to be careful with this system. It’s a great system and works extremely well, but we need to remember it’s not meant for fully autonomous driving at all. This system is a way for a driver to relax their hands and feet for a few seconds, but every driver needs to continue to be alert to their surrounding in order to maintain the control of their vehicle that’s needed with a system which is not fully autonomous at this time.

While the death of Mr. Brown is tragic, it could have been avoided. Hopefully this death serves as a warning to other Tesla owners to stay alert and does not lead to Tesla disabling the Autopilot system. Maybe it should be named something else so we don’t think the car is going to fly and land on its own, but so far this system has worked extremely well and is safer to use than when you’re driving on your own. One final question to think about, what’s going to happen when we have our first wave of fully autonomous vehicles? How may will call for these vehicles to be shut down when the first fatality takes place?

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