A new report from the Wall Street Journal reports that engineers at Tesla wanted to put more safeguards for Autopilot to keep drivers attentive to the road, but were rejected by executives.
This has been concern within Tesla since the launch of Autopilot and only intensified in 2016 when a Model S crashed into a trailer in Florida. The driver was killed and an investigation revealed that Autopilot was on at the time. After the crash, Tesla brought in suppliers to talk about possible ways to keep a driver's attention on the road. Two ideas mentioned in the report included,
- Tracking the eyes of a driver to make sure they are watching the road. This would use a camera and infrared sensors. Cadillac uses something similar with their SuperCruise system.
- Incorporating sensors into the steering wheel to monitor whether a driver's hands were on the wheel. Autopilot already has a sensor to monitor small movements of the wheel and will issue a warning to the driver if it doesn't detect any movement. The downside is that the driver can quickly touch the wheel to stop the warnings for a few moments.
However, the ideas were thrown out by Tesla executives (including CEO Elon Musk) due to costs and concerns that the technologies would be ineffective or annoy drivers.
“It came down to cost, and Elon was confident we wouldn’t need it,” a source told the Wall Street Journal.
A key issue with Autopilot is the false sense of confidence that drivers give to it - see the number of near-miss videos on Youtube as evidence. Tesla says in their owner manuals Autopilot has limitations and drivers must agree to a screen when Autopilot has engaged, "that it is their responsibility to stay alert and maintain control." Musk admitted during Tesla's recent earnings call that complacency with Autopilot was an issue.
“When there is a serious accident, it is almost always, in fact, maybe always the case, that it is an experienced user,” said Musk.
“And the issue is...more one of complacency, like we get too used to it.”
Source: Wall Street Journal (Subscription Required)