There are no cars that you can buy today that can drive completely on their own. Not even close. You may be confused about this, as Tesla vehicles have long featured a system called Autopilot and more recently offered something called “Full Self-Driving Capability”. Meanwhile, in fine print, Tesla says drivers should keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take over at any time.
It’s a classic case where CEO Elon Musk pushes the legal boundaries while trying to cover his bases, but here in the case of Tesla’s self-driving vehicle ambitions, it seems he’s gone too far. In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced an investigation into Tesla due to accidents involving autopilot. Then this week, The New York Times published a talk by Cade Metz and Neal E. Boudette showing Musk’s track record of neglecting safety concerns and overestimating autopilot capabilities.
Reporters spoke to a number of autonomous driving industry experts as well as 19 people who have worked on autopilot over the past decade. Here are the biggest takeaways:
- Simulate an autopilot video: To demonstrate the capabilities of the Autopilot 2.0 hardware, released in October 2016, Tesla created a video that shows a person sitting in one of its cars as it “drives by itself,” according to the video. As the Times writes, citing former Tesla employees, the route “was plotted in advance by software that created a three-dimensional digital map,” a feature Tesla owners do not have access to. The car also struck a roadside barrier during filming. This staged video is still on Tesla’s website.
- Tesla’s ‘truth’ versus the real truth: In 2016, Mobileye, a company working in the field of autonomous mobility and advanced driver assistance systems, and Tesla terminated their partnership. At the time, CEO Amnon Shashua said Tesla was “pushing the boundaries in terms of safety”. In a new interview with the Times, he added: “We must not cling to what Tesla is saying. The truth is not necessarily their end goal. The end goal is to start a business. Musk’s well-documented failure to deliver on his big promises – a million robotaxis on the road by 2020, a Cybertruck in 2021, the Tesla Roadster and Semi, etc. – only corroborates it.
- Even Tesla employees believe Musk has misled the public: The big question here is whether Tesla is deliberately misleading the public about its technology. Tesla fans say the company is doing whatever it takes; On its website, Tesla writes: “The current functionality of the autopilot requires active supervision of the driver and does not make the vehicle autonomous.” But according to “many” employees, the Times asked: “Musk has repeatedly misled buyers about [Autopilot’s] capabilities.
- Why Elon Musk released the Cyberwhistle: Less than a week before Times story was published, Tesla started selling a whistle in the form of the Cybertruck called Cyberwhistle. Musk tweeted about it, writing: “Blow the whistle on Tesla!” While we can’t be sure, it certainly sounds like a direct response to Tesla employees who have raised safety concerns about autopilot and fully autonomous driving. After all, the Times acknowledges that these sources all spoke anonymously “fearing retaliation from Mr. Musk and Tesla.” Neither Musk nor an attorney for Tesla commented on the story, even after multiple requests, so they knew it was coming.
This is an important story that gives audiences a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at Tesla, but you may not have heard of it until now, like Musk’s interview on Monday. with the the Wall Street newspaper turned the conversation to topics more suited to Tesla, like his preference for the title “Technoking” to “CEO” and his concerns about human reproduction.
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