Last fall, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that all cars produced by the company would be capable of “full autonomy” in the near future. Despite these promises, engineers are skeptical of their validity due to safety concerns they haven’t yet been able to work out.
The Verge reports on new developments for Tesla’s Autopilot program, allowing vehicles to drive themselves fully autonomously. According to those working on the program, they still doubt they are nearing a time when cars will be able to safely navigate on their own despite what Musk has promised the public.
According to certain engineers, Musk’s overly optimistic goals are putting significant strain on his relationship with the team. In July, he was reported as having “brushed aside certain concerns as negligible compared to Autopilot’s overall lifesaving potential” despite those working on the program not being able to agree with this judgment.
A major hitch in production came with Musk’s exact wording of product being developed. By marketing the Autopilot program as “full self-driving”, which saw multiple key members of the production team leave the company due to the difficulty in making this a reality.
Senior system design and architecture engineer at the time of the 2015 rollout for the Autopilot vehicles, Evan Nakano, was harshly critical of the program, saying it was based on “reckless decision making that has potentially put customer lives at risk.”
As the engineers predicted, Autopilot has already proved fatal. In 2016, Joshua Brown’s Model S Autopilot car crashed into a truck on the highway, killing him instantly. An investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration early this year found that there were no apparent defects with the Autopilot system at the time of the crash, with the US National Transportation Safety Board set to vote on the cause this September. It should be noted that the NHTSA’s report found that self-driving vehicles had a 40% lower crash rate from human operated vehicles.
A representative from Tesla, when questioned about the revelation of internal strife within the company and the numerous safety concerns with the system, only referred reporters to the company website, specifically to a disclaimer stating that “self-driving functionality is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval.”