Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) wants to bring autonomous driving to the mainstream market and it is doing it one EV at a time with its Autopilot software. Autopilot is no longer news, it can already take over most of the driving functions on the highway. Elon Musk says he is looking forward to a future where your car can drive itself across the country without human input.
Autopilot is far from perfect and every setback is helping Tesla to get closer to building a perfect self-driving car. Experts seem to agree that keeping drivers involved and engaged even when Autopilot is active is important to reducing driving errors and accidents. I guess it is safe to say that it is not yet time to be reading a book or watching YouTube videos while trusting Autopilot to get you from point A to point B.
Tesla needs to do more to make Autopilot safer
Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) Autopilot got a great deal of bad press last year when it was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. There were just too many reports of cars on Autopilot mode getting into close shaves, accidents – a couple of the accidents were fatal. Autopilot in itself wasn’t the cause of the accidents – the accidents mostly happened because the human drivers behind the wheel didn’t pay enough attention to take over when the Autopilot software reached its limits for handling real-world driving scenarios.
The NTSB recently conducted a report on a fatal Autopilot accident. The test shows a 41-minute trip, the driver kept his hands on the wheel for only 25 seconds in a 37-minute stretch of the trip. In fact, the driver only had his hands on the steering wheel for one to three second after a series of audio and visual warnings.
Interestingly, Musk thinks that the expert users of Autopilot tend to become too familiar with the driver assist system. In his words, “It’s not the neophytes, it’s the experts. They get very comfortable with it and repeatedly ignore the car’s warnings and in effect it becomes like a reflex action.”
Perhaps Tesla can learn a lesson or two from General Motors
General Motors created a driver assist tech that it calls Super Cruise in response to Tesla’s Autopilot. Super Cruise, announced last year provides a full range of adaptive cruise control, lane centering, auto steering, and auto braking among others. GM said initially said Super Cruise would go live late last year. However, safety concerns on the need to keep drivers focused behind the wheels might push the debut of Super Cruise until much later this year to early 2018.
GM plans to outfit Super Cruise with a “driver attention function” that will ensure that drivers are engaged with their cars even when Super Cruise is active. The driver attention function includes a small camera and infrared lights that track the position of the head of the driver to know where is (s)he is looking.
The cautionary function will also use facial recognition software to know when the driver is not paying attention. If the driver is not focusing on the road, the system wheel starts a throwing series of escalating alters such as steering wheel light, tactile alerts, audible alerts, and other visual indicators. The driver assist system will bring the car to a controlled stop if the driver fails to respond.