Any mention of self-driving vehicles evokes the image of motorists sitting back in the driver’s seat without their hands on the steering wheel, as the car drives itself. At least that’s the vision that Tesla has been teasing ahead of the launch of its autonomous vehicle, and to an extent for its currently active autopilot system. But can we really trust smart tech that much, at least the US Justice Department doesn’t feel so, after a dozen accidents where Teslas on autopilot crashed into vehicles.
Beyond human error or accurate judgment?
The authorities have reportedly launched an investigation into Tesla’s claims about the autonomous mechanism, which may have driven motorists to take their eyes off the road. Although the world’s top selling e-car is still testing its fully driverless vehicle, its models come with a system for automatic parking, along with steering and braking assistance since 2015. But Elon Musk, already penalised for making false claims about taking Tesla private, had called the autopilot “probably better than humans” in 2016.
Autopilot not same as autonomous
Even today, Tesla’s website has a video mentioning how a driver is only present for legal reasons in a car which is driving itself. But immediately after hinting that it’s ok to sit back without intervening as the vehicle moves forward, the video also asks motorists to keep hands on the wheel. The company does claim that autopilot can assist with steering, speed and lane changes, but stops short of calling it autonomous.
Tesla driving under the radar?
Such vague claims may make it difficult for authorities to charge the firm with false claims, whereas Musk’s statement sounded more explicit. The probe comes at a time when Tesla’s assisted by autopilot actually killed people in three out of a dozen accidents this year. In 2020, Musk had blamed people, who were not using autopilot as per Tesla’s instructions, for such accidents.
The company had earlier claimed that its Full Self-Driving (FSD) computer, previously known as Autopilot Hardware 3.0, is more powerful than any other autonomous driving software. Recently Musk even unveiled his own humanoid, to demonstrate capabilities of AI.
Not Musk’s fist legal tussle
Speaking of run-ins with authorities, Elon Musk has also been ordered to complete its acquisition of Twitter by October 28. A court set the deadline after he agreed to seal the deal when Twitter sued him for taking a U-turn on the agreement.