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It’s not technology, but humans that may not be ready for self-driving cars

Lucas Mearian | July 7, 2016
Tesla Autopilot 2.0 is expected later this year.

Currently, Tesla's Autopilot functionality conforms to level 2 autonomous functionality, according to the NHTSA. The NHTSA has created five levels to describe autonomous functionality, level 0 equating to no self-driving features and level 4 being a fully self-driving vehicle.

geneva motor show Nissan autonomous vehicle
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Nissan has unveiled a self-driving concept car based on the all-electric Leaf that is able to drive and park itself.

Level 2 involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane centering. Even though Tesla's Autopilot feature only meets the NHTSA's level 2 criteria, some Tesla owners have been using it as if it were level 4.

While advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as Tesla's Autosteer feature, can adjust the steering angle, steering rate and speed to determine the appropriate maneuvering operation, Tesla has said drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel in order to be able to react to unexpected situations.

"When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot 'is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,' and that 'you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle' while using it," Tesla stated in a blog.

Even with warnings from Tesla, just days after Autopilot was released as an over-the-air software upgrade, a plethora of videos surfaced" on sites such as YouTube that showed drivers with their hands off the steering wheel of their Tesla Model S. In an inexplicable act of stupidity, one driver even climbed into the back seat of his car to demonstrate confidence in the self-driving technology.

In light of such videos, and shortly after the Autopilot release last year, Musk said he would be placing more constraints on how it could be used.

According to multiple media reports, Tesla is expected to release Autopilot 2.0 later this year with improvements based on the beta program's data. In response to a Computerworld inquiry about a possible Autopilot upgrade, Tesla stated that it's "not commenting on rumor or speculation."

Like Tesla's technology, the vast majority of mainstream vehicles adopting autonomous driving features will be controlled by ADAS or "guardian angels" that learn over time, Gil Pratt, CEO Toyota Research Institute, recently told reporters and analysts at MIT.

Speaking at the New England Motor Press Association Technology Conference at MIT, Pratt said that 30,000 motor vehicle fatalities occur in the U.S. each year. That number may seem high, but as a whole, U.S. drivers are excellent at avoiding crashes.


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