back to article Is Tesla telling us the truth over autopilot spat?

An increasingly bitter fight between Tesla and its former autopilot partner Mobileye is raising questions over the electric car company's honesty. Elon Musk's corporation is notoriously prickly. When it does come under criticism – whether on safety issues, the practicality of long-distance drives, or its autopilot feature – …

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Re: We are not liable for...

Volvo intends to accept liability for what its AVs do.

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Re: We are not liable for...

Indeed, Volvo did say that. However they also said the US must work out laws regarding liability first -- the rules are just not clear enough for Volvo.

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Re: We are not liable for...

Volvo...king of serial Self-Braking failures.

Two separate incidents on YouTube.

All these folks need to tune down their hubris.

"A.I. is hard. Especially in the real world."

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Re: We are not liable for...

Nonetheless, one might not be terribly happy getting into a car which comes with the sort of licence most software seems to: "This XXX is not guaranteed to operate correctly or even at all..."

It seems to me that cars are suffering the same feeping creaturism that software products do; no-one actually *uses* a particular feature, but it ticks a box for a reviewer, so we'll stick it in. And then another, and another...

What you need in a car is some suspension, steering, engine, and a chassis/body. All mature technologies which can be implemented without *any* electronics (I ignore engine control systems for the sake of argument; they're not essential except by legislation). But then someone comes along and things a cruise control would be nice, and someone else thinks it would be nice if it matched speed to the car in front, and then a system that knows the speed limit, and then one that can take avoiding action if the car in front does something silly, and then, and then, and then... before you know it you've somehow acquired an autopilot - which may or may not work quite as intended.

Tesla needs to decide whether it's in the car making business or the autopilot business. They're not the same, and I hope they decide for the former - electric cars with a decent range are an excellent idea if only because the pollution they cause is probably easier to deal with in bulk. But if I don't want to drive myself, there's still taxis, trains, buses, professional chauffeurs... I don't think that the autopilot is finished until it can do a drive through a city centre at rush hour *and* a trip through the mountains. Until then, hands on the wheel please.

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Anonymous Coward

Mobileye

If you visit the Mobileye website and look at their technology solution it's quite clear that they are rooted in the driver assistance market and have no chance of ever extending it to allow autonomous capability. As such it is not surprising that they are playing the safety card as technology leapfrogs them, first relegating them to being a second layer of safety monitoring "autopilots" before advancing to the point where Mobileye's mono-vision technology ceases to give tangible benefit.

The question is are they right to claim autopilots aren't safe because "drivers" will ignore the road and trust them despite them not being up to the job? This really depends on whether the autopilot is designed to drive at the speed the human driver could or it slows down to a speed consistent with how the sensors and processing system cope with the prevailing conditions. If this is too slow for the human they can disengage the autopilot and go faster. This is temporary: the technology will get faster.

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Re: Mobileye

Yes, but... we possilbly could have an "autopilot" complete with computer vision, LIDAR etc. that could safely negotiate the centre of Manchester at rush-hour at a top speed of 7 mph. However, at some point it is going out onto faster roads and if it is still going 7 mph it is going to get stopped by the cops (has it even been programmed for that?). Speeding up the processing, LIDAR sweep rate, adding more pixels to the camera etc. still does not solve the fundament problem of dealing with the unexpected at sensible, usable road speeds. Why? Because it is hard to program for the unexpected. Mobileye sensibly say "driver assist " because their technology is an aid, not an abdication of resposiblity. Are they being pragmatic in recognising that technology cannot replace a little light thinking? Those who advocate "autopilots" as the answer to safe driving for all need to spend time awy from their simulators and keyboards and much more time behind the wheel - all around the clock, all around the world and in every climate and season. Once you appreciate the scale of the problem see if you remain so confident "autopilots" can fix it.

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Autonomous Cars

Autonomous cars are not ready for the public at this point. They are purely engineering test beds. What many automakers are doing is incorporating bits they believe will help improve safety such as automatically braking under certain situations. A couple of reasons for this: autopilot systems are still too buggy for the public and public is not quite ready for them. Pretty much everyone who is working on an autonomous car has said that the technology is not ready but we are "close". It may be like nuclear fusion which is always "a few years" in the future for 50 years+.

One of the problems with an autonomous vehicle is that vehicles can have a useful life of 15 years+ with proper maintenance, a little luck, and moderate use. Owners will expect similar results with an autonomous car. Many advertise that many owners get this kind of life so expectation is there. So the computer systems must work for the entire mechanical life of the vehicle which often will be 20 years.

Too name a driver assist package "Autopilot" is marketing stupidity at best if not risking a regulatory investigation for false claims.

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Re: Autonomous Cars

"...autopilot systems are still too buggy..."

I'm not sure that quite captures the gulf between today's pathetic attempts and what the actual solution will look like so many years from now.

What you've written is like stating that fusion power is still just a bit immature. Or flying cars aren't quite ready for prime time. Or peace in the Middle East isn't expected in the coming months.

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Re: Autonomous Cars

to claim that autopilot is at all misleading is stupidity at best.

autopilot doesn't do what you think it does, and that is not tesla's fault.

the name is very accurate... and i'd argue better than its namesake. unless of course plane autopilot has any obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities i'm unaware of...

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Re: Autonomous Cars

@JeffyPoooh,

"I'm not sure that quite captures the gulf between today's pathetic attempts and what the actual solution will look like so many years from now.

What you've written is like stating that fusion power is still just a bit immature. Or flying cars aren't quite ready for prime time. Or peace in the Middle East isn't expected in the coming months."

Quite. And it's a gulf the size of which the stats published by California unequivocally illustrated, to Google's apparent irritation.

You have to feel for the dev team, to have the true scale of their task writ large for them to fully comprehend. Yet it was always a challenge the scale of which was easy to comprehend with scholarly study of things like airliner automation, automated train systems, the first Ariane 5, etc. All these things point to it being a really tough challenge, and only one of them is actually fully automated and carries people (and operates in an artificially simplified environment; a railway). Given that there hasn't been a fundamental break through in machine comprehension (the sort that is demonstrably infallible, not just slightly better than the last one in lab demos), any old fool could conclude that a fully dependable self driving car isn't a viable option at this time.

You'd have to be really young and cocky to think that you could do better than all those predecessors. Well, Google are a young cocky company with, apparently, a lot of young cocky engineers. If they want to learn the lessons of life the hard and expensive way, so be it, that's up to them and their investors (a fool and his money will soon be parted. Anyone got shares in Tesla, Uber, etc?). So long as they don't manage to con everyone else into believing it works and get such things mandated by law...

The rest of us who have been there before will puff contentedly on our pipes whilst sitting in our most comfortable armchair and tells tales of yore...

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Re: Autonomous Cars

One other thing. The engineer who tells his company that something wildly ambitious cannot be achieved is worth a lot of money. They may very well be saving them from spending a fortune for no net gain. Certainly their point of view should be represented to the shareholders before the board decides to overrule them.

I suppose companies like Google and Apple, and maybe Tesla and Uber, have got money to burn on experiments such as self driving cars, but it's still their investors money, not their own personal funding to do with as they wish.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Autonomous Cars

I think the stupidity is all yours.

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Re: Autonomous Cars

I think Tesla is embracing self-driving tech because focusing solely on an all-electric powertrain is not all that remarkable, and very easy to replicate by competitors. I'd buy a Leaf or a Volt or any other thing (hybrid) over any Tesla, if that was all they had going for them.

Tesla cannot afford to not have a working self-driving technology to differentiate them from other car companies. They have never turned a profit, and they may never, now (and especially with so many other companies now focusing on creating their own flavor of that technology). The actual car companies are going to run Tesla out of business if they don't bring in new deliverables such as a whole-home battery and a home-generating solution.

I won't miss Tesla when they're gone. I do miss Aptera though, that was a sweet looking machine...

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Tesla is one of the automotive companies that are actually developing the technology. Developing means adjusting and refining and enhancing. One of those enhancements is to step away from a part manufacturer that isn't on board with their direction. Another enhancement, due to arrive imminently, is to add heavier restrictions to the Autopilot, insisting on the drivers hands being on the wheel much more, even going as far as requiring the car to be stopped and in Park before it'll allow the Autopilot to be re-engaged. This will catch the idiots that don't read manuals, are too arrogant to follow the rules and then rush for a lawyer when they cause an accident from using the vehicle the wrong way.

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i think most people

Would prefer to have them develop the technology in private(like google or others) or at least slap a big BETA sign on their cars. So people that do want to play beta have a chance to, but most of the rest that don't understand will be better informed to look elsewhere.

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Re: i think most people

You can't enable the Tesla autopilot without first explicitly acknowledging that it is driver assistance beta software, and that it must be constantly supervised. And you can't engage it subsequently without keeping hands on the wheel. The enforcement of hands on wheel may be a bit lax, but the car will not stay in autopilot without hands on the wheel.

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Re: i think most people

The enforcement of hands on the wheel isn't "lax", it is practically non-existent. It won't disengage until you ignore three warnings to put your hands back on the wheel over the course of an hour. So basically once an hour you have to briefly place your hands on the wheel when it warns.

IMHO it shouldn't allow you to take your hands off the wheel AT ALL for more than 10 seconds without disengaging. If you can take your hands off for minutes at a time, what's the incentive to be paying attention? It encourages people to text, check email, rummage around in the back seat to find something, etc. Tesla can put up all the disclaimers discouraging such things all they want, but the lack of enforcement in the software shows they're basically winking at you and saying "do what you want, we won't stop you, we're just telling you not to because our lawyers said we should".

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Re: i think most people

You have to hold the wheel once an hour? It depends on conditions, but it's actually more like a minute or two. And I own one, so I'm not making this up.

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all these implications...

where do you get them?

the only message i ever got from the "blame shifting" as it was called... was that the system as a whole was (as designed at the time), insufficient to handle the circumstances it found itself in. period.

none of the BS this article seems eager to shove down people's throats... but then what should i expect from a publication that has been nothing but hostile toward the autopilot system. everything i know about its namesake and everything the company itself has stated is far and away from how it is presented here.

do you people complain about traction control because it doesn't maintain traction 100% of the time without fail? ABS because they still momentarily lock in very wet conditions?

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the only message i ever got from the "blame shifting" as it was called... was that the system as a whole was (as designed at the time), insufficient to handle the circumstances it found itself in. period.

Those circumstances are mostly a driver ignoring all the warnings in the manual, on the big screen in the car and from a human briefing when it is purchased. Quote:

"Warning: Traffic-Aware Cruise Control has limited deceleration ability and may be unable to apply enough braking to avoid a collision if a vehicle in front slows suddenly, or if a vehicle enters your driving lane in front of you. Never depend on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to slow down the vehicle enough to prevent a collision. Always keep your eyes on the road when driving and be prepared to take corrective action as needed. Depending on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to slow the vehicle down enough to prevent a collision can result in serious injury or death.

That comes from two pages of similar warnings.

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There's a troubling gap between calling something autopilot in the ads and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control in the disclaimers. Either the thing is a magic unicorn that lets you text, watch movies, have sex, etc while driving or it's only cruise control with some new bells and whistles. But Tesla is selling it one way while simultaneously trying to limit responsibility and that's not right.

Mobileeye is certainly uncomfortable with the difference, to the point where they're getting out of one of the best relationships their company could possibly hope to be in. It's telling that they fear this liability more than the potential profits they could realize by staying with Tesla. Even if this turns out to be a You Can't Fire Me I Quit moment they still aren't letting this be sold as autopilot.

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I own a Tesla Model S and use autopilot daily. It's perfectly safe, very relaxing and a great safety feature.

Tesla make it very clear you must keep your hands on the wheel, right from the hand over when you pick up the car, to the warning/T&Cs when you enable autopilot, which is disabled by default, and in the manual. It also reminds you every time you activate autopilot, and regularly while driving.

Brown ignored all this and was supposedly watching a movie. His crash was human error. Just the same as it would be my fault if I crashed driving 150mph on a windy country road (something that happens daily, yet doesn't make the news) - I used the car inappropriately.

Tesla are dragging the auto industry into the future. Some people don't like change. And most companies don't like competition.

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The article lacks basic research

The author mentions Joshua Brown, the only real fatality so far in the USA. A quick browse of the internet reveals that Joshua Brown made several YouTube videos about his Tesla. He was very proud of it. In one of the videos makes it clear that he knew about the problem that killed him!

Joshua was killed in Florida. I think he lived somewhere near the Canada border. So he set his car speed 10 mph faster than the speed limit, and starting watching a video. Did he have an 18 hour drive ahead of him? Has anybody asked questions of the lorry driver who pulled across the road? Could he have avoided the accident, in spite of the 10 mile an hour excess speed of the Tesla? A Google map of the incident shows that the road was very straight.

Of course any idiot could have killed himself driving a Tesla with autopilot. And 1,500,000 do every year, without autopilot.

I think the death toll is now two - a chinese man drove his Tesla into a back of a lorry parked in the fast lane of a motorway ... we do not know if autopilot was turned on. What was the lorry doing parked in the fast lane?

The accidents are the price we pay to learn how to make things work. The car industry did not fit seat belts for the first 75 years ... how many died? The USA still does not make lorries of the kind that killed Joshua Brown have barriers on the side of the lorry to prevent cars going under them. A friend of mine was killed in the UK 30 years ago in the same way - an accident that cannot happen any longer as European law requires all such lorries to have side skirts - or whatever they are called. And they save the lorry driver money, as fuel consumption is reduced ...

The Israeli company making the sensors and chips that the Tesla uses are focussing on their existing clients. Obviously. They have not got the balls of Elon Musk ... fair enough. But somebody has to figure out how to do it, and Elon Musks method is very practical - and he accepts that some lives have to be lost - but he is making the very important point that it is the balance that counts. Lives saved against lives lost. He is doing it in exactly the right way - starting with building the safest car ever built - and experimenting with that car ... doing everything possible to minimise the risks. How many lives has that car saved ... versus how many have died. I think the balance is heavily in his favour, and is only going to increase - the factor of 10 that he is aiming for cannot be far away.

How bad is that?

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Re: The article lacks basic research

" and he accepts that some lives have to be lost"

Don't be so fucking stupid.

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Silver badge

Musk is a Salesman.

and purveyor of Snake Oil.

Do I really need to say anything else?

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Re: Musk is a Salesman.

You could say you are talking out of your arse perhaps?

Snake oil salesmen sell snake oil, not 50k cars a year ramping to considerably more, or successfully reduce the cost of a orbital launch by 50%. Or found Paypal for that matter, which I believe is a very successful company.

I've never understood this style of denigration of Musk. He's clearly extremely successful at what he does, everyone who has met his says he's one of the smartest people they have ever met, and he is single handedly (almost) trying to revolutionise Space, solar and cars, to the benefit of all.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Musk is a Salesman.

Two people in a balloon. One called Eben, one called Elon.

One of them has to go.

It's an easy decision, isn't it, especially when you understand the backstory behind Musk's approach to "designing" reusable rocketry (which can be summarised only slightly unfairly as "never mind the analysis, let's build something and see how well it works" - rather like his Autopilot, perhaps?).

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Re: Musk is a Salesman.

Sigh...

Snake Oil salesmen were purveuors of magic potions that promised to cure every disease known to man.

I don't trust him simply because he has far too many fingers in too many pies for him to concentrate on making Tesla the best. Sure they are innovating but he keeps on making promises he can't keep.

Calling the 'driver assistant', Autopilot was a mistake. Anyone involved with Aircraft autopilots will tell you that.

I don't see any evidence that the software has been developed and tested to the same standards as Flight Critical software. If I ever drove a Tesla, I would not engage Autopilot until it gets a lot better and the code is certified as being tested to Flight Critical standards. That alone would defer an awful lot of lawsuits.

So in my opinion, he is a snake oil salesman.

Naturally I could be wrong but so far I see lots of promises from Tesla and lots of money being lost.

When the model 3 is delivered for £30K on time I might revise my opinion of him.

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Bronze badge

To be honest, I'm not really that interested in the self-driving or driver assist technology. I've got adaptive cruise control in my own car, and I've hardly ever used it. If I had a Tesla, I don't expect I'd make any meaningful use of 'Autopilot' either.

What interests me about Tesla is the powertrain -- they've got an electric car with double the range of the next best available vehicle, and half the time to charge it. But more importantly, they've spurred some of the rest of the industry into a response.

I would love for my next car to be fully electric, but it will have to be in my budget and good enough to justify over a petrol engine. Tesla's Model 3 might just hit the spot. But more importantly, the competition that's being driven by the Model 3 means that there are a number of other cars that should also be available in the next year or two that might be an even better fit for me. I'm looking forward to them being available, and I seriously doubt that they would be on the market anything like as soon if Tesla wasn't pushing the industry.

The self-drive stuff... that's all well and good, but the real value of Tesla is in the batteries.

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Self driving bullshit

What can people expect from the folly that is Tesla, produced by Musk and his madmen, bought by rich, technology fan-boy's.

Return full control to the driver, putting a huge spike in the centre of the steering wheel is the only technology needed to improve safety. Self driving is total fantasy, collision avoidance systems dangerous. How long will this utter madness go on being promoted.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Self driving bullshit

Quote

What can people expect from the folly that is Tesla, produced by Musk and his madmen, bought by rich, technology fan-boy's.

Could Tesla be the new home for the former disciples of St Jobs?

After all Apple is so boring these days.

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Anonymous Coward

Brown watching a video...

Is bull. The Florida police have already indicated there was no evidence for this. There was a portable DVD in the car but no evidence it was running at the time. Also, the eyewitness account for this is the driver of the truck that was driven into, so until the official investigation concludes we've got to take his version of events (like all others) with a pinch of salt, as we don't know if there could be a degree of blame shifting going on. There is a suggestion the truck driver could have heard an audiobook playing, and assumed the driver had been watching the movie "on that big screen", but again it's all speculation.

If you look at the crash location on Google Maps, it's quite an awkward turning for a truck. Get it slightly off and a truck drivers view of oncoming cars could easily be compromised. Given that it's otherwise a wide, straight highway, I think there's more chance it happened because a truck tried to complete a manoeuvre too late, or misjudged the speed of an oncoming car, or had difficulty seeing it in the time available. Total speculation of course. But for the car to have hit it where it did, the truck had to have been performing a late maneouver, or just doing it much slower than was safe. If something drives out right in front of you, and you're going at highway speeds or above, all systems human or otherwise are going to struggle to avoid it. Though slamming on the brakes might have at least made any impact more survivable.

One would hope that successive software updates such as 8.0 which allegedly deal with scenarios exposed by this accident reduce the likelihood of that kind of accident ever happening again. That has to be the holy grail of all river assistance systems, actual reductions in fatal accidents through recognising scenarios and avoiding them. As someone who briefly fell asleep at the wheel for a fraction of a second the other week, and yes I'd been taking breaks, just obviously not enough for such a dull road, this new world can't come soon enough.

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Never underestimate the stupidty of humans...

... which seems to be the problem. There's the urban legend about the two guys in an RV (motorhome/caravan) driving down the freeway and the one is in the galley making a sandwich. The other shows up and starts to make one. The first says..."why aren't you driving?". The response: "I've set the cruise control and it seems to be controlling just fine." This moments before the RV ran off the road.

Yeah.. legend. But there's a lot of people that stupid. Driving and Texting? Driving under the Influence? Those are two biggies. There's a million other things that can and will go wrong. Calling something "autopilot" ranks right up there especially when it isn't. It's a glorified cruise control with features...

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DrM
Mushroom

Not just me?

I've never believed a word he has to say. Well written.

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Bronze badge

So these cars have driven 100k miles on average and handed back to the driver to avoid an accident every other mile or so, but dont dwell on the last part its not good for sales.

Give me an autonomous vehicle that can complete a journey _without_ handing back to the driver and I'll call it autonomous.

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