Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A History of Autopilot’s Development at Tesla

Cade Metz and Neal E. Boudette, New York Times:

Unlike technologists at almost every other company working on self-driving vehicles, Mr. Musk insisted that autonomy could be achieved solely with cameras tracking their surroundings. But many Tesla engineers questioned whether it was safe enough to rely on cameras without the benefit of other sensing devices — and whether Mr. Musk was promising drivers too much about Autopilot’s capabilities.

Now those questions are at the heart of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after at least 12 accidents in which Teslas using Autopilot drove into parked fire trucks, police cars and other emergency vehicles, killing one person and injuring 17 others.

I hope autonomous vehicle technologies really can improve safety for drivers and pedestrians alike. I hope more that mass transit gets better, but why not have both? Just know that I am not rooting for these efforts to fail.

One of the defences I often see is that there were only twelve accidents where Autopilot failed out of millions of vehicles on the road. That is likely better than the record of human drivers behind the wheel of any brand of car.

But what this angle misses is that this is effectively twelve accidents caused by the same driver. Autopilot may have been in different cars at the time and with different software versions, but it is all attributable to the same code. Tesla’s software is the driver. That is not a radical position — it is what Volvo argued six years ago for its own cars. Tesla should accept full responsibility when drivers use its autonomous features and not cower behind weak disclaimers that fail to match its own public rhetoric.

One more thing:

Amnon Shashua, chief executive of Mobileye, a former Tesla supplier that has been testing technology that is similar to the electric-car maker’s, said Mr. Musk’s idea of using only cameras in a self-driving system could ultimately work, though other sensors may be needed in the short term. He added that Mr. Musk might exaggerate the capabilities of the company’s technology, but that those statements shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

“One should not be hung up on what Tesla says,” Mr. Shashua said. “Truth is not necessarily their end goal. The end goal is to build a business.”

I hope this is not meant as praise. If it is not possible to build a business truthfully, we are in bad shape. But I am sure it is meant tongue firmly in cheek which, combined with its forthcoming IPO, makes it a fortuitous time for Mobileye to be criticizing a competitor in the press.