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Tesla to take back some Autopilot controls

Lucas Mearian | Nov. 5, 2015
In 15 to 20 years, CEO Elon Musk believes owning a car that can't drive itself will be like using a horse for travel today.

"This is still early, but it's a good indication. So it appears to be quite beneficial from a safety standpoint, and I believe some of our customers have posted videos to this fact," Musk said.

Unlike traditional car manufacturers, which tend to bundle upgrades for introduction in a new model year, Tesla is constantly engineering upgrades to its existing fleet and to vehicles being manufactured.

The company's philosophy is to continually make improvements, "so every week there are approximately 20 engineering changes made to the car," Musk explained. "So model year doesn't mean as much. There are cases where that step change may be a little higher than normal as, for example, with having the Autopilot camera, radar, and ultrasonics. But we try to actually keep those step changes as small as possible."

While Autopilot's features allow for driver assist functions today, Musk said he expects Tesla to produce a fully autonomous vehicle within about three years.

In 15 to 20 years, it will be "quite unusual" to even see a car rolling off an assembly line that's not fully autonomous, he said.

"And for Tesla, it will be a lot sooner than that," Musk said, adding that cars without full autonomy will be seen as having a negative value. "It will be like owning a horse -- you're really owning it for sentimental reasons."

Google, which has been building and testing its own self-driving vehicles, released a report this week indicating it would be safer to ensure that drivers cannot take control of self-driving cars.

In its report, Google stated that it has spent time considering features that would allow its autonomous cars to "hand off" control to the driver. But the company said such functionality would be problematic because driver reaction time to hazards was shown to be markedly slow.

Google referenced a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that found drivers required somewhere between 5 and 8 seconds to safely regain control of a semi-autonomous system.

In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a study  that revealed that some participants took up to 17 seconds to respond to autonomous vehicle alerts and retake control of the vehicle.

"There's also the challenge of context -- once you take back control, do you have enough understanding of what's going on around the vehicle to make the right decision?" Google stated. "In the end, our tests led us to our decision to develop vehicles that could drive themselves from point A to B, with no human intervention."

"Everyone thinks getting a car to drive itself is hard. It is. But we suspect it's probably just as hard to get people to pay attention when they're bored or tired and the technology is saying, 'Don't worry, I've got this... for now.'"


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