Elon Musk built his electric car company, Tesla, with the promise that it would represent the future of driving. Much of the promise focuses on Autopilot, a system with features that can steer, brake, and accelerate the company’s sleek electric cars on the highway.
Unlike technologists at most other companies working on self-driving vehicles, Mr. Musk insists that vehicles can operate on their own with just cameras monitoring their surroundings. However, many Tesla engineers have questioned whether it is safe enough to rely solely on the camera without the utility of other sensors.
That question is now at the heart of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation into at least 12 crashes. In those crashes, Tesla cars using Autopilot rammed into parked fire trucks, police cars, and other emergency vehicles, killing one person and injuring 17 others. Families are suing Tesla over fatal crashes, and Tesla customers are suing the company for misrepresenting Autopilot and an upgraded version of the system called Full Self Driving, for short. is the FSD.
Interviews with 19 people who have worked on the project over the past decade show that, as Autopilot’s back-hander, Musk pushed it in a direction that other automakers didn’t want to use. use this technology.
Since Tesla started working on Autopilot until now, Mr. Musk’s expectation of marketing Tesla cars as a technological wonder has remained an obstacle, because the car has not yet reached the level of safety to use.
For years, Mr. Musk has said that Tesla cars are close to being fully autonomous. “All Tesla vehicles come out of the factory with all the hardware necessary for Level 5 autonomy,” he declared in 2016. The statement surprised and alarmed some workers. work on the project, as the Society of Automotive Engineers defines Level 5 as fully autonomous.
Regulators have warned that Tesla and Musk have exaggerated Autopilot’s superiority, encouraging some to misuse it.
Cameras are considered as the eyes of the driver
Tesla began developing Autopilot more than seven years ago as an effort to meet new safety standards in Europe that require technology like automatic braking. Initially, the company called this project “enhanced driver assistance”, but later executives led by Mr. Musk decided to choose “Autopilot”, despite some Tesla engineers opposed. This name is misleading.
In its early days, Autopilot used cameras, radar, and sonar sensors. But Mr. Musk told engineers that the system would eventually be able to drive autonomously with just the camera being enough, according to three people working on the project. They say the Autopilot team continues to develop the system using radar and even plans to expand the number of radar sensors on each vehicle, as well as explore lidar – devices that “detect light and range”. Measure distance by laser pulse.
However, Mr Musk stressed that his binocular metaphor was the way forward and questioned whether radar was ultimately worth the headache and expense of third parties buying and integrating radar technology. from a third party or not. Over time, the company and team have moved closer to his way of thinking, focusing more on camera technology.
Other companies developing driver assistance systems and fully autonomous cars argue that cameras are not enough. For example, Google has equipped its test self-driving cars with expensive lidar devices the size of buckets mounted on the roofs of cars.
In contrast to lidar, the camera is small and inexpensive. This makes Tesla attract attention with sleek cars. Radar, which uses radio waves and has been around for decades, is cheaper than lidar, a less common technology. But according to three people working on the project, some engineers favor Musk’s camera-only approach, arguing that radar is not always accurate and that it is difficult to match radar data with information from the camera. .
In late 2014, Tesla began installing radar on its Model S sedans as it prepared to roll out the first version of Autopilot. But Mr Musk didn’t like the way the radar was inside an opening in the front of the car, so he asked his engineers to install a rubber gasket, although some employees have warned that the gasket could hold. snow and ice and prevented the system from functioning properly, said two people who worked on the project at the time.
Problems with Tesla Autopilot
Tesla vehicles can use computers to handle driving situations, such as changing lanes. However, there are concerns that this driver assistance system, called Autopilot, is unsafe.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into Autopilot’s involvement in crashes, following 12 incidents involving Tesla vehicles hitting a parked ambulance. Competent authorities force the company to recall the vehicle or install new safety equipment.
In May 2016, Model S owner Joshua Brown was killed in Florida when Autopilot failed to recognize a tractor-trailer passing in front of him. His car has a radar and a camera.
A look back at the 2019 crash that killed a 22-year-old college student has revealed flaws in Tesla’s autonomous driving system and how distraction can have tragic consequences. In another incident involving the death of a 15-year-old boy, after his Tesla crashed into a truck, a California family is suing the company, alleging that the Autopilot system was partly responsible.
The Consumer Reports report found that the autopilot feature can be fooled by allowing Tesla cars to drive themselves without anyone in the driver’s seat. The automaker also rolled out a software update that allows drivers to play video games while the car is in motion. This is subject to scrutiny by US regulators. Tesla eventually agreed to disable the feature.
Tesla later said that during the collision, Autopilot’s camera was unable to distinguish between a white truck and a bright sky. Tesla has never publicly explained why the radar failed to prevent the crash. Radar technology, like cameras and lidar, isn’t perfect. But most industry insiders believe this means the more sensors the better.
Fully self-driving cars
When Tesla approached the rollout of Autopilot 2.0, most of the Autopilot team abandoned their normal duties to work on a video to demonstrate how autonomous the system could be. But the final video doesn’t provide a full picture of how the car was performing. At one point during the video’s recording, the car crashed into Tesla’s roadside fence and had to be repaired, the three of them doing. show the video said.
When he announced Autopilot 2.0 in October 2016, Musk said at a press conference that all new Tesla vehicles are now equipped with cameras, computers and all the other hardware needed to “run the car on its own.” completely”. His statement caught the engineering team by surprise, and some felt that Mr. Musk was promising something that couldn’t be fulfilled, according to two people working on the project,
Sterling Anderson, who led the project at the time and later founded an autonomous driving company called Aurora, told Tesla’s sales and marketing team that they shouldn’t call the company’s technology a “automatic” or “self-propelled” as this would be publicly misleading, the two former employees said. Some inside the company may have heeded the advice, but Tesla soon used the term “fully autonomous” as a standard way to describe its technology.
By 2017, Tesla began selling a suite of services the company described as a more advanced version of Autopilot, called the Full Self Driving package. Its features include reacting to traffic lights and stop signs, and changing lanes without the driver prompting. The company sold the package for up to $10,000. Engineers who have worked on the technology admit that the services are not yet fully autonomous as the name suggests and have been promised by Mr. Musk in public statements.
In early November, Tesla recalled nearly 12,000 vehicles that were in FSD beta testing after rolling out a software update that the company said could cause accidents by activating the emergency braking system unexpectedly. car level.
Amnon Shashua, chief executive officer of Mobileye, a former Tesla supplier that has experimented with technology similar to that of the electric carmaker, said Musk’s idea was to just use the camera in the system. Self-driving systems could eventually work, although sensors may be needed in the short term. He added that Mr. Musk may be exaggerating the company’s technological capabilities, but those claims should not be taken too seriously.