Automakers know the future is autonomous. Ford promises to put thousands of robocars on the road by 2021. Mercedes-Benz and General Motors hope to get there sooner, even as they race to catch up with Google and Baidu.
Meanwhile, some 90,000 Teslas already have Autopilot, which gives the Model S and Model X many of the features people consider autonomous.
The technology, which Tesla Motors introduced with an over-the-air software update in October, allows the cars to accelerate, maintain lane position, change lanes and even park without any input from the driver. Strictly speaking, AutoPilot is a driver assistance tool that requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.
Not that they do. The Internet is awash in videos of people sitting in the backseat and sleeping, and ignoring Tesla’s TOS requirement that they maintain control at all times. That’s prompted calls for Tesla to deactivate Autopilot, arguing the company is moving too quickly.
Rubbish, says CEO Elon Musk, who insists the technology saves lives. Ironically, he cites a fatality to prove it. A man in Florida died in June when his Model S slammed into an 18-wheeler after Autopilot and the driver failed to hit the brakes. The company said Autopilot-enabled cars had covered 130 million miles without a fatality, compared to a national average of one fatality every 94 million miles. Musk says it would be “morally reprehensible” to delay its rollout.
Still, Tesla has redoubled its efforts to convince drivers to maintain control at all times. And although the future is autonomous, the debate will surely continue. Here’s WIRED’s guide to Tesla’s Autopilot.
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