Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk said their cars can’t drive without a driver behind the wheel, but Consumer Reports said they actually can. The magazine said it found that it could “easily” get a 2020 Model Y to drive “even with no one in the driver’s seat.”
Testing the Model Y
Consumer Reports said on Thursday that it drove a 2020 Model Y on a closed test track to see whether Autopilot could drive without anyone in the driver's seat. It said it could "easily get the car to drive even with no one in the driver's seat." Consumer Reports tricked Tesla's Autopilot system by placing a weighted chain on the wheel and keeping the seatbelt buckled.
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In a statement on Thursday, Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, said that in their test, "the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention—it couldn't even tell if there was a driver there at all."
Consumer Reports' most recent test and report come in the wake of a deadly crash in Texas in which authorities said they were confident that no one was behind the wheel. Two people died in the crash of the 2019 Model S, which went off the road and hit a tree, catching fire. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are sending teams of experts to investigate the crash.
Tricking Tesla's Autpilot
Consumer Reports also found in previous tests that Tesla's Autopilot and many other automated driving systems can run even on streets without lane lines. Musk had tweeted that the system requires lane lines to operate.
Fisher explained that any automated system that looks at lane lines can be tricked. For example, they might see something like a tar strip or a curb as a lane line even though it isn't. He added that Autopilot requires just one lane line instead of a double line like other systems do.
Musk also said the data logs they recovered so far indicate that Tesla wasn't enabled at the time of the wreck. He added that the car didn't even have the Full Self-Driving feature. After Musk's tweet, Texas officials prepared to serve search warrants on the automaker to get its data on the crash.
Tesla is falling behind
Fisher also said that Tesla is lagging behind other automakers like General Motors and Ford, which use technology that ensures the driver is looking at the road. GM, Ford, BWM, Subaru and others use cameras in their vehicles to track the driver's eye movements and head position to make sure they are paying attention to the road.
GM's Super Cruise system and others will automatically slow down and stop if they sense that drivers aren't watching the road. Tesla's system uses steering wheel sensors to detect if a driver's hands are on the wheel.
Tesla is part of the Entrepreneur Index, which tracks 60 of the largest publicly traded companies managed by their founders or their founders' families.