Tesla’s Autopilot settings makes it possible to drive semi-autonomously recent versions of the Model S and the just-launched Model X, but the feature is very much a work in progress. Tech website CNET posted a few videos in which a Model S in Autopilot mode is seen lunging suddenly towards the side of the road and into incoming traffic.
System works well in ideal conditions
In both recorded incidents, the drivers had to take over manually and steer to avoid the accidents. Such incidents underscore the repeated warnings from Tesla CEO Elon Musk that the system is a beta release and that it is important for drivers to remain cautious.
During a press conference while introducing Autopilot, Musk said, “We’re advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. You need to be ready to take the wheel at any time.”
The system is not able to perform efficiently when lane markings are unclear and in heavy precipitation, admitted Musk. Citing a section of L.A.’s notorious 405 Freeway where the system got confused by the faded pavement markers and diverging lanes, Musk said the system failed to figure out which one was the real lane and went into the wrong lane.
Musk added that the system works well where infrastructure is good and where there are clear markings on the road or the driver is in dense traffic, Tesla CEO said.
Tesla CEO confident on its long-term feasibility
With the help of Autopilot, Tesla’s Model S is capable of driving itself on freeways, changing lanes automatically and parallel parking without any intervention from the driver. The feature mainly gathers the required data from nearby cars and lane position. It makes use of ultrasonic sensors, a forward-facing camera and radar, and GPS integrated with highly precise maps for collecting data.
Semi-autonomous driving could be doomed before it truly takes off. A single accident is all it needs for the media to jump all over it, people to start doubting, and questions to be raised regarding the technology. The reason the system is called Autopilot is that it is usable only under ideal conditions,
Despite the glitches, Musk is confident that the Autopilot capabilities will outperform humans with refinement. “In the long term, it will be safer than a person driving,” he said.