Tesla autopilot system going mainstream is a long way into the future
Yet another report criticises Tesla for its autopilot system for not being safe. But is it valid?
We are paving into the future with technology by our side. There is no denying it. Machines are getting smarter and ‘learning’ new things. Even if you oppose the idea of being surrounded by technology, you can’t live without it. It can get scary, I agree. There are times when I look back at sci-fi movies and think about how humans could be wiped out if these machines happen to get a conscious. Let me be honest, that is not going to happen. Well at least not in the next 50 years.
Getting back to reality, today we have managed to create computers that can understand and adhere to a vast pool of information fed into them. While an achievement in technology is usually a one day affair, failures are talked about for weeks, months and even years. That is natural. That is human.
Tesla is one company that is facing this. It managed to create cleaner and less resource consuming modes of transport. On its own. I admire Elon Musk for what he is doing. He has a vision, a thirst for exploration and he is going beyond limits. But all I hear, week over week, is how the autopilot system of Tesla cars have put lives into danger.
I agree that one should not put out a product in the market until it is completely safe. Look at Samsung. It is the biggest smartphone maker in the world, but the Galaxy Note 7 battery fiasco has made people think twice of the brand. What about the numerous and excellent smartphones that it created? I think this is what keeps me calm when I see a movie like the Terminator, where machines are taking control of humans. Errors, mistakes and failures are a part of evolution.
Recently, I read a report where a study from Germany’s Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) found that the Autopilot system on the Tesla Model S is a “considerable traffic hazard.” Of course it is. We are giving the control of a machine to a computer and leaving it into the open world. But there is a lot more than just being a ‘hazard’.
Firstly, it is a new and developing system for all Tesla cars. In fact, it is new for the automotive industry. The company works on it everyday to improve it. This is no different than smartphones. Tell me which smartphone today can practically work for more than a week. We still don’t have a solution to a long lasting smartphone battery, there might be one or two in the market, but nothing that is mass produced.
Secondly, the autopilot system by Tesla is called as a ‘driver assistance system’. Using the word ‘autopilot’ gives the impression that the car drives on its own. While technically it does, the DAS is meant to be used with the full attention of the driver. The system periodically reminds the driver to touch the steering wheel and reaffirm whether he or she is paying attention. The day where we just sit on the back seat and let the car do its own thing is a long way into the future.
As a comeback to the report, Elon Musk tweeted that those reports were not actually based on science and said that Tesla's autopilot is safer than manually driven cars. According to Tesla, its vehicles go more than 130 million miles with the autopilot engaged before one actually gets involved in a crash. Now according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, this is a much better safety record than for manually driven cars which are involved in a fatal crash every 100 million miles in the U.S.
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