Recently Tesla announced that in the summer of 2015, Tesla cars would receive a software update to enable an autopilot feature (on highways) as well as a valet-like feature that could park the car for you and be summoned via a smartphone (on private property). This is going to change the world as we know it; the next step, fully autonomous cars.
“Tesla had been testing its autopilot on a route from San Francisco to Seattle, with company drivers letting the car navigate the West Coast largely unassisted.” – Elon Musk
As of right now everyone has a couple clear concerns. The main fears being “what if something were to go wrong with the autopilot feature” and “what if someone were to get into an accident while in the vehicle”. While this is a valid concern and certain regulations need to be in place to decide who would be responsible, there will obviously be rigorous testing and scrutiny on the new Tesla systems. Let’s not let our fear of the new and slightly unknown cloud our judgement.
These concerns will likely be similar to those expressed by the major news outlets in 2013 when a couple Tesla vehicles caught fire (all due to accidents). The statistics behind it tell the real story. According to the National Fire Protection Association
One vehicle fire per every 20 million miles driven by a conventional car vs. one vehicle fire per every 100 million miles in a Tesla.
If there is an option that we already have experience with, we are more likely to choose that option simply because of its familiarity. Sure there could be a robot uprising and our cars could drive us all off a cliff.. (woops I just added another scenario), but that would be unlikely.
“For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.” – Elon Musk
The main unsafe factor in normal driving is the person behind the wheel. In 2010, there were an estimated 5.4 million crashes! Imagine if you took the human element out of the equation. Autonomous cars would not speed, get distracted by phones, cut each other off, drive recklessly, or park like a** holes and leave you with two inches to squeeze your whole body out of your door. They would have faster reaction times, be better able to assess the situation, and even go a step further and provide services to people who could not drive themselves! Some of those scenarios are not ready currently due to the need to be tested vigorously under different situations. But the truth of the matter is that if done correctly, the cars would be safer than putting a human behind the wheel.
Back to current reality
How Tesla’s update could benefit us:
- Autopilot during the commute home in traffic jams! Let the system auto-brake, speed up, stay within the lines and get you most of the way home safely without you ever having to lift a finger or foot.
- Autopilot on road trips to relieve some of the stress when driving long distances
- Reduce the number of car crashes and traffic jams as a result (tell the horrible drivers to get one)
- Have a valet in your own home! You can get out of your car and let it park itself in the garage.
- Make more people interested in an electric vehicle!
- Paving the way for a new generation of automobiles that have the ability to drive for us.
Issues with the update:
- What if regulations don’t allow the feature to be used in certain areas? The disparity could cause problems.
- What if the software doesn’t live up to the expectation and actually causes accidents? (low chance of happening but is a possibility)
- What if people who are driving their cars hit a Tesla and claim that it was the Tesla or Tesla driver’s fault? (easily fixed with cameras and sensor information from the Tesla)
- Who is responsible if the accident is because of the Tesla?