Elon Musk of Tesla thinks it is nothing but technology sharing. A move made with the intention of accelerating mass market advancement of electric cars to provide a sustainable alternate form of transportation, in June 2014 it was announced that the company will allow anyone to use its technology patents in good faith. With a rather vague statement, Musk managed to protect Tesla’s intellectual property while taking a grand leap towards his desire of providing everyone with electric cars.
Musk’s extravagant claims ranging from guaranteeing trips to Mars to producing a Tesla that can drive itself without any human, astonishingly, haven’t been the reason behind Tesla’s frequent mentions in the technological realm but rather the blame of crashes of Tesla Model S by the drivers on its supposed prematurely introduced Autopilot feature.
While Tesla’s logs and independent reviews make the claim that the drivers were responsible for the crashes, the drivers continue to blame the vehicles. Before entering into a discussion of who’s at fault, certain questions must be answered.
What is the Autopilot?
Despite its name, it’s a semi-autonomous system. Taking this into consideration German regulators asked US automobile company to drop the name Autopilot as it seemed to “over promise capability” to which Tesla just said nein, dropping hints about the recent claim to introduce complete self-driving capability by the end of 2017. Starting from October 2014, all Tesla vehicles were equipped with a camera, a forward-looking radar, ultrasonic acoustic location sensors and digitally controlled brakes. In simple words, the vehicles were facilitated with all required equipment for detection of lane markings, road signs and obstacles such as other vehicles. The technology was in a state of dormancy until the introduction of Tesla 7.0.
This software package enabled the Autopilot feature in practicality. Even now, owners have to manually turn on the feature before using it which requires certain criteria to be met before it can be used which include- clear lane lines, a somewhat constant speed, a map of the surrounding area and a good sense of the cars around.
The latest version added new features which enabled owners to call their cars from a distance of 40 feet after which the car will semi-autonomously drive itself out of a parking space and head towards the owner which goes by the name ‘Summon’ and introduced ‘Autopark’.
What makes Tesla unique?
Not only does the Autopilot system facilitate over-the-air software updates but also sends real-time feedback to Tesla so that the company can improve the system and fix the bugs.
Also, unlike other automakers, Tesla does not use single purpose , large battery cells but thousands of small, cylindrical, lithium-ion 18650-like commodity cells. Thus, in order to allow quick charging of Model S and X on longer journeys, in 2012, Tesla Motors began establishing a network of 480-volt fast-charging Supercharger stations.
Tesla Autopilot- The Controversy
When a 40-year-old man, Joshua Brown, suffered a fatal crash into an 18-wheel truck using his Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode in Williston, Florida, Tesla had no other option than to release its logs and make an official statement regarding how the Model S was unable to recognise ‘the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky”.
Two of the accidents involving Tesla vehicles had them crashing into businesses: a Model S crashed into a gym in Florida and a Model X crashed into a beauty salon in California.
A similar accident happened in Quebec on October 21st where a Model S drove through a store causing a lot of damages but no fatalities. For a change, the driver accepted her fault and didn’t blame it on the vehicle or the Autopilot system.
With questions being raised about the safety of the self-driving function, what is to follow?
With Tesla vehicles now being built with the hardware to facilitate full self-driving capability at safety level which Musk considers to be twice than that of a person, the target for the upcoming cheaper Model 3 is the general public, making Tesla’s efforts to make electric cars available to everyone quite apparent.
Whether people want to entrust their lives with a computer and Elon Musk is what only sales figures will tell.