I checked out Tesla Autopilot — and there’s no way it can drive a car by itself – Business Insider
The National Transportation Safety Board has released some additional details about a fatal Tesla Model S Autopilot crash in May of 2016.
One of the findings was alarming. According to the NTSB, an agency that rarely investigates auto accidents and usually spends years delving into plane crashes: “[d]uring the last 41 minutes of [Joshua] Brown’s trip, the Model S was in Autopilot for 37.5 minutes …. Brown had his hands off the wheel for a total of 37 minutes during the time the car was in Autopilot.”
And: “The Model S displayed the visual warning “hold steering wheel” seven times during the trip. Six of those were followed by auditory warnings.”
As it turns out, I gathered some experience with Autopilot. Last year, Tesla loaned me a Model S P90D with the latest everything. We used it to take a trip to the Catskills, in upstate New York. It was quite an adventure, and the car performed well, but …
What was Autopilot really like?
It was very advanced cruise control — and to Tesla’s credit, it has become more advanced since I explored it last year. When it’s fully activated, auto-steering allows the driver to take his hands off the wheel for short periods of time, although Tesla has repeatedly stressed that drivers shouldn’t do this. And when you activate the technology, a warning presents itself on the instrument cluster.
These are the warnings that Brown evidently failed to follow. To address that issue, Tesla has updated the software so that if you ignore the warnings, Autopilot will deactivate for the remainder of your journey.
But here’s the real deal: Warnings or not, you absolutely, positively shouldn’t take you hands off of the wheel. Ever.
The technology is very good, but after using it for only about 15 minutes on the highway, it was abundantly clear to me that Autopilot is a long, long way from the magical experience of a car driving itself.
Or even steering itself.
At Business Insider, we had an early look at Autopilot, right after it was released in a software update last year. I went for it and avidly took my hands off the wheel. But we were in the vehicle for only a short period of time.
As we used Autopilot for a longer drive, however, it rapidly became obvious that the system does exactly what Tesla says it will do: guide the car through its lane, change lanes, and monitor surrounding traffic to avoid collisions and activate braking.
It doesn’t do anything else.
Hands on the wheel!
My opinion of Autopilot is entirely my own and not based on exhaustive or remotely scientific testing. But I now think that the accidents that have occurred when the technology was activated were the result of drivers not making a rational evaluation of Autopilot’s capabilities.
I couldn’t get comfortable keeping my hands near the wheel, or “hovering” them close by. I wanted my hands on the wheel at all times, and I think that any reasonably experienced driver should feel the same way.
Beyond that, Autopilot requires monitoring. You must pay attention to what the system is doing to determine if its sensible to leave it on. It actually demands more, not less, driver attention.
I’ve watched some of the Autopilot videos made by Brown prior to the fatal crash. It looks to me like he was trying to push the envelope on what the system could do, consistently placing himself in a position to have to get his hands back on the wheel — and probably also on the brakes, deactivating Autopilot — to retain control of the vehicle.