Erica Flores

No Elon, the Navigate on Autopilot feature is not "self-driving …

On Wednesday, in a call to investors, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made an extraordinary statement: All Tesla vehicles today are capable of what he has called “total self-driving” on the highways and on the road. most other controlled access roads.

“The full self-driving capability is there,” Musk said casually. He was referring to Tesla’s recently deployed “Navigate on Autopilot” feature, which guides the car from the “on-ramp to exit ramp” by suggesting and making lane changes, navigating highway interchanges, and proactively taking turns. Departures.

Navigating on autopilot is not “complete self-driving”, not even on the highway

The problem is, of course, that Navigate on Autopilot is not “complete self-driving”, not even on the highway. No car on the road today can fully drive itself. That includes Teslas. And last October, Tesla suddenly pulled the “full self-driving” option from its website, claiming it was “causing too much confusion” for customers to justify keeping it front and center, Musk said at the time. So for Musk, claiming that all Tesla vehicles with Navigate on Autopilot are capable of “full self-driving” is confusing, and some would say dangerous.

To poke holes in Musk’s comments, you don’t need to look beyond the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) taxonomy for autonomous vehicles, commonly known as SAE levels, which have become the worldwide standard for defining autonomous driving. Most experts would categorize Navigate on Autopilot as Level 2 autonomy, which means the vehicle can handle basic tasks such as acceleration, braking, and lane changes, but the human driver needs to maintain full attention to the road. and be prepared to take control of the vehicle. In a moment’s notice.

Tesla vehicles say so themselves. When activating Navigate on Autopilot, a warning screen appears on the center screen that says: “Navigate on Autopilot does not make your Model 3 autonomous. Like other functions of the autopilot, the driver remains responsible for the car at all times. Drivers who take their hands off the wheel run the risk of disabling the function.

Even highly automated vehicles, such as those operated by Alphabet’s Waymo, Ford’s Argo AI, or GM’s Cruise Automation, would not really qualify as “total self-driving,” because they can only operate within a specific geographic location and under specific conditions. such as fair weather. Those companies typically keep safety drivers behind the wheel, with the understanding that their vehicles would be considered level 4 capable under the SAE taxonomy.

SAE levels are not perfect

SAE levels are not perfect; for example, they tend to overlook all the different forms of automation that are being developed. Most automakers avoid using SAE levels when defining their various systems, but they are all we have at the moment, and government agencies such as the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. they use frequently when talking about the autonomy of vehicles.

Therefore, Musk’s claim that Tesla vehicles today are capable of “full self-driving” is misleading. As we make a messy transition between the older way of driving and the newer way of driving, Musk adds to the confusion. Consumers hear Musk say that Tesla vehicles are “fully automatic” and feel they don’t have to pay attention when the autopilot is on. And that’s when we pull off idiotic stunts, like when a driver in the UK jumped into the passenger seat to film his car driving down the motorway.

Even Tesla’s public statements about the autopilot contradict Musk’s comments. When there has been a crash that involved the autopilot (and there have been some), Tesla will inevitably issue a statement that makes this point: Drivers need to pay attention to the road, and the autopilot does not prevent all accidents.

Drivers should pay attention to the road.

Experts are beginning to realize that the way we talk about autonomy is a big deal. Last week, AAA released a survey of major car brands that found that automakers have exceeded their naming conventions. There are 40 different brand names used to describe automatic emergency braking, 20 different names for adaptive cruise control, and 19 terms for lane keeping assist. Forty percent of Americans believe that cars on autopilot can drive themselves.

During the earnings call, Musk explained the difficulty of getting the autopilot to have a “99.999 percent” success rate, citing the road signs as particularly troublesome. He added that the company would be ready to implement “full self-driving” by the end of the year, depending on local regulatory approval. And later, he referenced Tesla’s developer mode that the autopilot is capable of “full self-driving,” so it’s unclear whether Musk was talking about customer vehicles or not. A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment.

“Complete self-direction” has been a long time coming. Four years ago, Musk claimed that Tesla vehicles would be able to drive completely without any human interaction by 2017. Two years ago, Musk announced that every car made going forward would have the necessary hardware to facilitate this goal. Tesla has spent the years since advertising this imminent advancement on its website as an easy add-on to a new car purchase, something that only required a few thousand dollars and a little patience.